Mental Health Given Attention at SONA But Still More to Be Done

SAFMH News Room

“We are paying greater attention to mental health” President Cyril Ramaphosa declared at the 2023 State of the Nation Address. This has been well received for people working in mental health advocacy.

The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) applauds this statement. For too long mental health has not enjoyed the same focus and resourcing as physical health, despite it being a leading cause of years lived with disability in the country.

“Our starting point must be to raise awareness and combat stigma around mental health, so that people are able to seek and receive mental health services” Ramaphosa continued.

We couldn’t have said it better. Stigma is still a leading reason for people do not seek care in South Africa. Shifting attitudes and decreasing stigma form the basis of our three annual awareness campaigns (PS: keep an eye on our social media platforms for upcoming Intellectual Disability Awareness Month 2023 in March).  

President Ramaphosa also rightfully admitted the mental health shortcomings in the country saying: “Beyond that, we need to dedicate more resources and qualified professionals to the provision of such services.” These mental health services and interventions must be delivered at all levels of healthcare by well-trained, well-equipped, culturally- and gender-sensitive health workers, who are paid fairly and can recognise the comorbidities between physical and mental health.  

Overall, we commend the spotlighting of mental health at the SONA; something that has not been done to such an extent before.  

Considering the President’s call for more to be done when it comes to mental health, we wanted to share some points of how this can be done, including: 

  1. Reinstate the now lapsed mental health policy framework, this time with an associated budget for implementation and sufficient monitoring mechanisms to hold government accountable for implementation. This will show us that you are paying attention.  
  1. Make mental health a part of the school curricula. Invest in social-emotional learning programmes at schools, targeting learners. These should be adapted for a South African context by key stakeholders including young people, their caregivers, mental health civil societies and mental health care users. Such interventions have been shown to yield great returns of investment, largely because of the significant number of mental illness cases that are prevented through the intervention. 
  1. Work with Provincial Departments of Health to upskill, train and supervise existing health workers – including those working in the HIV sector– to deliver evidence-based, culturally appropriate, empathetic and rights-based mental health and social care services in non-specialised settings. This must include the diagnosis and treatment of comorbidities between mental and physical health conditions. 

 We understand that there is still so much to be done to ensure mental health is a priority in South Africa, but we are hopeful that we are heading in the right direction.

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