SA’s epidemic of rural sadness

2009-04-21 00:00

Forty-one percent of pregnant women in rural KwaZulu-Natal are depressed.

This is according to a study by Mental Health and Poverty Project (MHaPP) researchers at the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town, who found that significant psychiatric conditions are prevalent among South Africans, with 16,5% suffering from common mental disorders like depression and anxiety in the last year.

“Even more concerning perhaps is that 17% of children and adolescents suffer from mental disorders,” said Dr Crick Lund, chief research officer for the MHaPP.

“Research found that mental illness ranks third in its contribution to the burden of disease, after HIV and Aids and other infectious diseases. Poverty plays an important part — in the low-income and informal settlements surrounding Cape Town, maternal mental health problems have reached epidemic proportions. One in three women in these areas suffer from postnatal depression.

Research from rural KwaZulu-Natal showed that 41% of pregnant women are depressed — more than three times higher than the prevalence in developed countries.”

He said their research found the distribution of human resources between urban and rural areas to be disproportionate.

“In rural areas, there is one bed for every 342 patients needing mental health care and no child- or adolescent-dedicated beds. Statistics for many rural areas show there are no psychiatrists, limited nurses, and critically low numbers of social workers, even though 1,5% of the rural population was treated for a mental illness in 2005,” said Lund.

“Diagnosis, treatment and support for people with a mental illness is difficult enough to find in urban areas,” said Johannesburg-based psychiatrist Dr Thabo Rangaka. “In rural settings, where people don’t have the information or the funds, this can be virtually impossible.”

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