A third of SA mentally ill, won’t get treatment - report

2014-07-06 08:01
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Cape Town  - An investigation into the mental health status of South Africans has found  that one third of the nation suffers from mental illness and about 75% of them will not get help.

In an special investigation by the Sunday Times, the newspaper found that of the most vulnerable are juvenile patients who receive treatment in state facilities. They are housed in prison-like conditions and run the risk of being raped.

Dr Yusuf Moosa, head of clinical psychiatry at the University of the Witwatersrand, said that more than 17 million people in the country are dealing with mental health issues including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia and substance abuse.

However, the Department of Health spends only 4% - or R9.3bn - of its budget on addressing mental health illnesses.

Dr Melvyn Freeman, head of non-communicable diseases at the Department of Health, said government was aware of the problem but they had to keep it in context and that despite there being some mortality in mental health, thousands more were dying from illnesses such as HIV.

He said his department was not likely to get a marked increase in funding for mental health and instead innovative ways had to be found. In line with this, community workers, including priests and sangomas, are to be roped in to assist with out-of-hospital support for the mentally ill, reported the newspaper.

Twitter tool to help mental health services

Australian researchers however, recently unveiled a Twitter tool to map moods around the world in real-time to help improve the allocation of mental health services.

The online tool, called We Feel, analyses up to 32 000 tweets per minute - about 10% of all English-language tweets - for 600 words that are then linked to emotions such as love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness and fear.

The data will be used to monitor the emotions of individuals and communities across different locations, and "ultimately predict when and where potentially life-saving services are required", said lead researcher Helen Christensen of Australia's Black Dog Institute, which researches and treats mood disorders such a depression.

"The power of this information cannot be underestimated. Currently, mental health researchers and associated public health programmes use population data that can be over 5 years old," the professor and director of the institute added.

The large volume of data from Twitter - which says it has 255 million monthly active users worldwide - is analysed with the support of Australia's peak science body, the CSIRO, and internet giant Amazon's remote computing services.

The We Feel tool can be accessed online.

Read more on:    twitter  |  cape town  |  health
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