Mental illness in SA shock
Depression, anxiety and other ailments affect a third of population
ASTAGGERING onethird of South Africans suffer from one form of mental illness, including depression and anxiety.
This is according to research conducted by the University of Cape Town, which also revealed that 75% of these sufferers do not get the appropriate help.
The research, conducted by the department of psychiatry, stressed that, if untreated, mental health issues can cause dire consequences.
Dr Dominique Stott, executive: medical standards and services, said this includes the working environment.
“Mental health issues create problems for sufferers, especially when they impact their ability to work and earn an income,” he said.
He explained that there were several reasons why mental health sufferers didn’t receive the appropriate treatment. Chief among them was the perceived stigma associated with mental illness, the lack of facilities and the cost of treatment.
“While the patient may require medication, hospitalisation and psychotherapy in order to return to work, this is not always available to those who need it most outside private healthcare sectors,” he said.
He added that there were many symptoms to look out for in regard to those who suffer from mental health.
Feeling isolated and alone was among them.
“At this point, if an individual is showing major behavioural changes which are noticed by friends or family members, there should be reasons for concern, especially if there is a history of mental illness in the family,” said Stott.
Other behavioural changes which could be a warning are inconsistent sleep routines, such as sleeping too much or too little.
She added that thoughts about death or dying, declining work or school performance, obvious substance abuse or avoiding social contact were also symptoms.
“While a mental illness must be properly diagnosed by a healthcare professional, recognising the first signs can enable the sufferer to get the desired help early.”
Despite the potential severity of mental health conditions, Stott said there was help available for sufferers.
She said the first step was to acknowledge that there is a problem.
“When a patient does not acknowledge that they have a problem or feels as though nothing will help them, then a family member or friend should seek help and advice on their behalf, with a medical professional sooner rather than later,” she added.
“Any patient who has lost touch with reality will definitely require urgent input from a specialist.”
She stressed that it was vital for those who think they might have a problem, or even their loved ones who noticed it, to get help.
“Any potential sufferer who mentions, even casually, that they have nothing worth living for should be taken to an emergency room immediately to rule out the risk of suicide,” Stott said.
Work-hardening programmes are beneficial for people at the right time as part of their recovery, she said.
“This form of therapy is carried out by an occupational therapist who assists people in recovering gradually, to reintegrate back into the workplace.”
Stott said although it might be difficult, it was important to push through.
“It can be daunting to have to face a work environment after weeks away from work, and this form of therapy, in addition to the input from the employer if required, will help to ensure the return to work is successful.”
Stott added that sufferers shouldn’t think that they won’t be able to return to work.
“Most patients with mental health disorders, most commonly depression and anxiety, will be able to return to work,” she said.
“From the outset, this must be encouraged to ensure the best eventual outcome.”
She added that there was research which proved that staying off work for extended periods of time past a normal recovery period has no added benefit for the patient.
“Research shows that returning to work, even in a limited capacity initially, will help with the recovery.
“The longer one stays off work, the more difficult it is to either find new work or return to the original employment.”
75% of sufferers don’t get the appropriate help, research shows
SEEK HELP: Any potential sufferer of mental illness should be taken to the emergency room to get treatment, experts advise.