Mental health patients increase yearly

2016-10-19 15:51

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During the past financial year, the provincial health department admitted more than 6300 mental health patients and attended to 43 921 cases at outpatient departments.

These statistics are drawn from the four psychiatric hospitals under the management of the provincial government – Lentegeur, Stikland, Alexandra and Valkenberg – as well as two sub-acute facilities – New Beginnings and William Slater.

In commemoration of World Mental Health Day, acknowledged annually on 10 October, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, provincial health minister, highlights that although challenged by stretched budgets, her department remains committed to strengthening acute, inpatient and outpatient services, alongside district and community-based mental health services.

The World Health Organisation has set the following theme for this year: “Dignity in mental health – psychological and mental health first aid for all”. In line with this, the province is focusing on reducing the stigma, isolation and discrimination that continues to burden individuals with mental health conditions, their families and carers.

Mbombo says the theme reiterates the important role communities play in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

“De-institutionalising mental health clients and reintegrating them into supportive and accepting communities will greatly assist us in reducing psychiatric service pressures. Community involvement is therefore a fundamental medium of care for mental health users.

“In order to make a valuable difference in the lives of mental health clients and reduce stigma associated with mental illness, we require support from our communities,” she says.

She highlights that providing psychological and mental health first aid is a gesture of care shown towards a fellow human being who may need emotional support.

This is especially needed by individuals who may be developing a mental health problem, are experiencing the worsening of an existing mental health problem, or find themselves in a mental health crisis.

“With increased levels of criminal activities and social factors prevalent in South Africa, many individuals are often affected by an emergency, disaster or traumatic event,” she says.

Psychological and mental health first aid aims to reduce the initial distress, meet current needs, promote flexible coping and encourage adjustment and reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Basic mental health first aid skills can be developed by anyone in the community and should form part of an individual’s duty in showing a degree of care to others in their community, just as they would wish to be cared for,” says Mbombo.

The acute adult psychiatric services remain under pressure as the number of patients using the province’s mental health services increases yearly, says Mbombo.

This is evident in the 2014/15 financial year report, which shows that these facilities admitted 5944 patients and attended to 40 409 patients at outpatient departments.

She says her department “has instituted strategies to retain mental health patients in care by improving outpatient services. This approach sees more frequent appointments post discharge and a streamlined transition from hospital to clinic by implementing increased discharge support that ensures mental health patients return for their follow-up appointments.”

In addition, the province’s primary healthcare service also offers mental health services to individuals who require it. Common mental health conditions are identified, diagnosed and treated.

Where more complicated mental health problems exist, a referral is arranged and the patient is able to receive more appropriate levels of mental health care.

“[The provincial health department] is addressing the growing need for the care of patients with mental illnesses by improving access to treatment and counselling at a primary health care level in line with the Mental Health Care Act.

“The department has also implemented a policy decision to build fit for purpose psychiatric wards at all large district hospitals as well as the regional hospital units.

“However, a collective approach whereby the community extends care and support to individuals with mental health conditions, their families and carers can most certainly ease the burden with immediate effect,” says Mbombo.

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