Mental illness examined

2017-10-20 06:00

>>precious.gumede@media24.com

MENTAL health affects everybody and anybody, be it due to stress, depression or in any other form.

The Hibberdene Care Centre (HCC), which offers affordable care for persons struggling with mental illness on the South Coast, was founded by Felicity Govender.

Govender does the groundwork as she takes care of patients every day.

Govender said mental illness is often described as the “Cinderella of health care” - neglected, shamed and starved of attention.

She said in KZN, mentally ill people, rich and poor, struggle to get the care they need.

“Mental illness is indeed rising, and soon it could overtake HIV/Aids as the leading cause of illness in South Africa.” said Govender.

“The first step to helping patients and loved ones is to get them to talk about it. There are still many sufferers who feel alone, scared and misunderstood. With increased awareness and a policy of educating the public about mental health issues will encourage more people to share their diagnosis and seek help.”

“Approximately 956 000 adults are estimated to live with mental disorders in KZN. The reality of significant treatment in KZN is, where are all these people with mental disorders obtaining help, or are the majority living with their distress without any access to care of any form?”

Govender said there remains a need for forms of care - formal or informal - in resource-scarce regions.

“In many communities, a significant proportion of those experiencing mental disorders consult traditional healers. Most hospitalised patients with first-episode psychosis consult traditional healers prior to seeking treatment from formal health services, this delays accessing psychiatric care.”

“Traditional healers tell patients they are victims of witchcraft as many are not educated or taught about the signs and symptoms of mental illness.

“When a young adult or older person suddenly changes and displays signs of mental illness, they are taken to traditional healers, or church to be prayed for, or to a temple to perform rituals and sacrifices,” she said.

Govender said the reason behind these consultations is because it is easier and cost effective because of poverty as hospitals and treatment clinics are not easily accessible.

She said it is important for religious leaders and traditional healers to be educated about the symptoms of mental illness so they can encourage patients to seek medical help.

“Another aspect leading to abuse of the mentally ill is desperation and ignorance by families and carers because education about mental illness is rarely available.

“Counselling for families is virtually non-existent. Mental disorders are common and responsible for increased mortality due to suicide and reduced life expectancy, considerable individual and collective suffering, significant loss of social and occupational functioning and productivity, and extensive disability. Moreover, they are a major burden on caregivers and families.”

Govender feels there is a huge “treatment gap” because of a lack of funding for mental health.

“More than two-thirds of the world’s population live in countries that spend less than five percent annually on mental health.”

According to Govender’s research, data from the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use shows that KZN has the fourth-highest prevalence of treated substance abuse.

So to deal with the burden of mental disease in South Africa or KZN in particular, Govender said it is important to investigate and publicise the availability of psychiatric and mental health services available for persons and families.

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