SA needs comprehensive psychosocial support services

The world is marking Mental Health Awareness Month in October. Ayanda Ndamane / African News AGency (ANA)

The world is marking Mental Health Awareness Month in October. Ayanda Ndamane / African News AGency (ANA)

Published Oct 14, 2023


By Ratidzo C. Makombe

Mental health has become an important aspect of understanding individuality, self-care and self-awareness. The second Annual Mental State of the World Report (2021) published in March 2022 ranks South Africa as one of the worst countries when it comes to issues concerning mental health.

Several factors in South Africa negatively impact the mental well-being of citizens for example the lack of employment amongst the youth and more recently the Covid-19 pandemic that altered many citizens’ lives.

In many cases, the assumption is that mental health issues often affect the younger sects in society but according to the Development Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU) study, adults who are either single, widowed or separated tend to be affected more.

This has been attributed to the fact that many older citizens would have retired or faced significant life changes.

Young adults who reside in urban areas are also deemed to be more likely affected by depression as opposed to their counterparts in rural areas.

As with many countries, South Africa’s living standards make it conducive for mental health challenges. Social issues such as stigma in relation to mental health challenges, high levels of violence, poverty, unemployment, and inequality all contribute to citizens’ mental health.

Delving deeper into South Africa’s society, some authors have argued the country’s past has also played a crucial role in the mental well-being of citizens. The migrant labour models under apartheid affected the family structure negatively as they were broken up, resulting in depression, stress, and anxiety in women and children. Within this context, women often had to bear the brunt of ensuring that the household was functioning to the detriment of their mental health.

The continued inherent cycle of poverty from apartheid perpetuated over the years has resulted in citizens being negatively affected. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse and stress associated with workplaces have been the norm in South Africa. Mental health issues are of huge concern as they have repercussions for the productivity of citizens, and it is of paramount importance that there are ways to assist those affected by it.

Several measures have been put in place to address the growing concerns of mental health issues in South Africa. It is important for there to be services to assist those who are most vulnerable to mental health challenges. It is, therefore, important to engage community organisations as they are more in touch with issues that are affecting those who reside in those areas. Ensuring that community-based initiatives receive the required financial backing will be very useful in addressing citizens’ challenges.

In universities such as the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, the institution often ensures that there are wellness programmes for students, especially during exams.

These wellness programmes provide students with the platform to address any concerns they might have during a stressful period. Such initiatives, at a broader level in communities, would go a long way in addressing mental health issues. For example, identifying those who are likely to be vulnerable and providing them with the required assistance should be the priority and health workers in this regard become very helpful. In countries like Zimbabwe mental health services are part of primary healthcare facilities and this is often done through using health workers at a community level.

The month of October is seen as a Mental Health Awareness Month. The South African government has played an important role in trying to play a leading role in raising issues concerning mental health issues. One of the challenges that is associated with mental health is how it is viewed by most Africans. Some citizens might believe that mental disease does not exist among Africans which contributes to the stigmatisation associated with the condition. It is, therefore, important for the initiatives at a community level to educate citizens on mental health in the same way communities are educated about how voting is a fundamental aspect of their lives.

What remains clear is that there needs to be a holistic approach to addressing mental health challenges thus meaning government, civil society, academics, and the private sector should work together in this regard. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has called for there to be initiatives that increase investment in mental health and psychosocial support services which, more importantly, should be integrated within the context of primary healthcare, education, and child protection systems. UNICEF’s stance on mental health in South Africa was based on a roundtable discussion that included all stakeholders and this approach is an important aspect that needs to be considered in addressing the scourge.

*Makombe is a doctoral candidate in Development Studies and a researcher at the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL