It is a concerning fact that more than 20% of our population have a mental health problem requiring professional care. However, it is comforting to know that treatments are available for all mental health conditions. Even more reassuring is the fact that mental health treatments, including medication and psychotherapies, have advanced substantially over the past two decades, evidencing high levels of efficacy. Currently, the world is in the best position that it has ever been to manage mental health problems, and people suffering emotional and mental health problems are encouraged to seek help.
COVID-19 has increased the world’s mental health burden in several ways. Firstly, the lockdown has significantly reduced social contact, which is an important protective factor against emotional and mental health problems, and people are feeling increasingly isolated because of the inability to physically meet friends and relatives. Low mood and anxious feelings are also common. Secondly, the losses experienced due to deaths of loved ones, and the secondary psychological effects suffered by many who have survived COVID-19 infections, have left some of our people needing psychological care and support. Thirdly, the COVID-19 restrictions also affected those with pre-existing mental health problems who may have avoided going to their clinic or health practitioner to collect medication or attend psychotherapy sessions during this period, risking relapse of their health problems.
The pandemic also saw increased unemployment, poverty and generally intensified the inequality in our country and elsewhere in the world. This is concerning, given the higher vulnerability to mental health problems in low-income communities. The rates of common mental disorders such as depressive and anxiety disorders are worrying, and these conditions affect women and girls considerably more, much like the high rates of gender-based violence and resultant trauma in our country. We urge greater recognition of mental health concerns in these vulnerable groups.
Despite the numerous challenges we face as a country, we are fortunate that mental health care is available, even though it may be in short supply in some areas such as rural and poorer communities where clinic services may be a little difficult to reach. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that help is available at hospitals, clinics, private health care providers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We, at the Psychological Society of South Africa, will continue to lobby government for the increased provision of mental health services across our country and especially in rural communities.
If you or anyone you know is emotionally distressed or needs mental health care, contact your nearest health care practitioner, clinic or hospital. Alternatively you can contact SADAG at 0800 21 22 23 / 0800 456 789.