Following a report from the World Health Organization on the health status of countries of the world, a Clinical Psychologist Zama Mbele said South Africa is a Psychologically sick Nation.
Mbele said WHO’s data of assessment showed that there were 0.28 psychiatrists per 100000 people and 0.32 psychologists per 100000 people in South Africa and this makes it possible to consider SA a Psychologically sick nation.
The psychologist said though the statistics were from a 2007 report, the situation had not improved and this is putting the country in a delicate state.
“Psychological and psychiatric conditions can be fatal. The overall effect of these shortages are that people do not get the help they need on time and we have a society that is ill,” he said.
The shortage of psychologists as compared to the increasing number of psychologically ill patients, affects the public and private sector, with waiting lists of between three weeks in the private sector to about eight months in the public sector.
Speaking on why SA is referred to as a psychologically sick nation, psychiatrist and Wits University honorary professor Mvuyiso Talatala pointed out the limited number of training facilities in the country as a contributing factor.
Buttressing this point, Dan Stein from the University of Cape Town’s department of psychiatry and mental health, said often those who studied psychiatry usually leave the country in search for greener pasture.
In addition, Crick Lund who is the director of the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health, said lack of interest in psychiatry compared to other medical specialties is another issue but he acknowledged the fact that there is now a growing interest among undergraduates medical students to undertake the course.
The stereotypes and stigma associated with mental health problems remained, with people being classified as “lazy or crazy or demon-possessed”, Lund added.
Many people did not regard mental illnesses as a medical condition, Mbele said.
Meanwhile, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group found out that one in every four employee have been diagnosed with depression by a mental health practitioner and the organisation’s Cassey Chambers noted that creates a spiral of destruction
“Depression, like other mental illness, doesn’t have working hours – it affects every aspect of a person’s life and creates a spiral of destruction.”
“Psychological and psychiatric conditions cause severe distress; having these professionals is not a luxury service, in the same way that oncology is not a luxury,” he said.
Lund puts the percentage of treatment and care for mentally ill people in the country to 25% . “There is a large treatment gap”he decried.
Talatala said the shortage of mental health professionals was a problem: “This means mental illnesses go undetected, people present symptoms later with more complications, this is why we are seeing higher suicide rates. We are ending up with a sick nation.
“I suspect that what we are seeing could be only the tip of the iceberg. We absolutely need more specialists” the professor added.