For the past 100 years, the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) has been advocating for and promoting, protecting and upholding the human rights of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities. The organisation is the largest mental health federation in the country, and acts as a resource centre equipped with the latest information on mental health. SAFMH is an important lobby group for government on mental health policy and legislation, and is committed to fighting for improved mental health services that contribute towards the wellbeing of mental health care users (MHCUs), including their ability to access community based mental health services.
October is celebrated annually as Mental Health Awareness Month, with the 10th of October being World Mental Health Day. For 2020, the SA Federation for Mental Health [SAFMH] is supporting the theme of MENTAL HEALTH FOR ALL: GREATER INVESTMENT-GREATER ACCESS, as initiated by the World Federation for Mental Health. At present, SAFMH is also the country lead for an international mental health awareness campaign – Speak Your Mind – which is being run by a UK-based NGO called United for Global Mental Health [UGMH]. For October 2020, the Speak Your Mind campaign will also be supporting the theme mentioned above, calling for greater resourcing and investment in mental health globally.
So why is mental health important? And why be concerned about more investment?
- One in four people will be affected by a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, with half of all mental health disorders developing before the age of 14
- Approximately one billion of the world’s population is living with mental health disorders
- The majority have no access to care
- 50% of people with mental disorders in high income countries do not receive treatment, while 85% of persons in low-and middle income countries have no access to treatment
- Poor mental health costs the global economy approximately US $2.5 trillion per annum
- Across the globe, less than 2% of health budgets are spent on mental health
- In most countries, stigma against people diagnosed with mental health disorders is a significant stumbling block that prevents people from seeking help
But why talk about mental health in 2020? What about COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a health threat with far reaching consequences for both the physical and mental health of all people. The full extent of the virus’s impact on individuals, communities, countries and economies is yet to be determined as we continue to face this new enemy.
The psychological effects of the pandemic include grief, due to a loss of life, jobs, movement restrictions, isolation, increased poverty and uncertainty. According to the WFMH (2020), the mental health consequences of COVID-19 increased weight on the already “overburdened mental health landscape in which the number of people living with depression and or anxiety increased by nearly 50% from 416 million to 615 million”.
As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, many countries like South Africa redirected their already-fragile public health resources towards prioritising physical health, the result of which saw other health services such as mental health becoming even scarcer. As a low-middle income country, South Africa was already facing serious shortcomings with the provision for mental health services for the majority of its citizens, and these problems were exposed further as the need for physical health services increased.
Strain on mental health services during the COVID-19 was exacerbated by the fact that, as one of the most unequal countries in the world, mental health spending and budget allocations across provinces have also always been unequal.
Mental health is thus more important now than ever!
Events such as WMHD remind us of the work that still needs to be done to encourage those affected to seek help, by developing public awareness and promoting mental health at all levels in society.
This year’s WMHD’s theme calls on global leaders to commit to ensuring that access to treatment for people with mental health disorders is accelerated and that treatment is made more readily available to all the populations. The pandemic has shown that global health systems are not well equipped to deal with emerging illnesses as well as the increasing need for mental health care arising from crisis.
SAFMH supports the call to governments across the globe – including our own – to act swiftly in making mental healthcare a priority and ensuring that it is accessible to everyone everywhere. The investment should not only be in monetary terms, but also through support for organisations that are committed to mental health and the empowerment of communities through awareness campaigns.
The Mental Health Series… What to expect?
Over the past few months, SAFMH has collaborated with UGMH to produce a concise South African mental health country profile, outlining an array of unique factors, trends and challenges that impact on mental health in the South African context. This profile is essential when talking about investment, and it is important that all South Africans learn more about and understand what the mental health landscape looks like in 2020.
During October 2020, SAFMH will be publishing a mental health series, drawing on the information from the country profile and other literature developed by SAFMH for the October campaign, and thus further pledging its support to the theme of investment and to the Speak Your Mind campaign.
The series will be made up of eight instalments, published on the following dates:
- 6 October – overview of October theme and campaign [the one you are reading now!]
- 12th October – mental health and political factors
- 14th October – mental health and economic factors
- 16th October – mental health and social factors
- 20th October – mental health and technological factors
- 22nd October – mental health and legal factors
- 27th October – mental health and environmental factors
- 29th October – wrap up, summary and publishing of full country profile
The instalments will be made up of “bite-size” information pieces, and it is our hope that this information will assist with both a broader understanding of mental health among all South Africans AND with making the case as to why improved mental health investment is absolutely essential in this day and age.
So join us, follow us and engage with us during October. Let’s talk mental health. Let’s fight for more investment. And let’s make a difference.
* References available on request *