SA’s Mental Health Status

The MHIC adds that one of the greatest obstacles to preventing mental illness, and improving services and treatment, is ignorance. Psychiatric Disability Awareness month aims to focus the attention on mental illness and thereby to reduce ignorance. (Source: Ilse Pauw, Health24)

Mental Illness is Common

According to a comprehensive study done on mental illness in South Africa, The South African Stress and Health (SASH) study, 30.3% of adults will have suffered some form of mental disorder in their lifetime. In the twelve-month period measured in the study, one in six adults suffered from common mental disorders, and a quarter of these, suffered serious mental disorders; this represents one in four out of every hundred South Africans.

Statistics released by the Department of Health correlate this, they estimate that one in five South Africans are significantly affected by a mental disorder and show that between 1% and 3% of the South African population are likely to suffer from a mental health problem severe enough to require hospitalisation. Almost 20% of high school students a year, think about fatally harming themselves.

According to the Mental Health Information Centre (MHIC) mental disorders have a negative impact on society both from a social and economic standpoint. Just the economic cost of alcohol abuse is estimated to be R5 billion a year, through health and medical expenses as well as lost productivity and violence. It estimates that the costs of other mental disorders are just as high as those for substance abuse, particularly when they are diagnosed late. There is also the human cost, for example; marital and family breakdown and individual suffering.

Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 450 million people across the globe suffer from mental illness.


Common mental disorders lead to considerable losses in health and functioning in rich and poor communities alike, and the prevalence of these mental disorders is increasing, particularly in low and middle-income countries. Unipolar major depression ranks as the leading cause of disability in the world and manic-depressive illness, alcohol abuse, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia fall into the top ten causes of disability world-wide.

350 million people suffer from depression worldwide and the numbers are on the increase. The number of people living with depression has increased by 18,4 % from 2005 to 2015. Depression is also a major contributor to the average of 800 000 suicide deaths a year. Anxiety disorders affect 3,4% of the world’s population.

Over the past few decades new and innovative treatments for mental disorders have emerged from ongoing research on the basic biology of mental disorders. Many illnesses are very treatable, especially with early diagnoses and intervention. In particular, early diagnosis can prevent the illness getting worse or lasting a long time. Tragically, many people do not receive treatment.

Why treatment isn’t offered

Why is proven and affordable care for mental disorders not provided? Some of the barriers to treatment include; a public lack of awareness of symptoms and the necessity for treatment, the stigma attached to seeking help, lack of referral by primary care providers to mental health resources, lack of insurance for medications, inadequate numbers of hospital beds for mental illness and low priority given to mental health.

Some important myths and facts about mental illness and recovery:

It is a myth that children don’t experience mental health problems. Half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old, and three quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24, which makes the young particularly vulnerable.