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There is a growing realisation that mental disorders take an enormous toll on society. Statistics reveal just how dire South Africa’s mental health problem is: It is estimated that approximately ⅓ of South Africans suffer from some form of mental disorder, according to a SASH (SA Stress and Health) study conducted in 2003/4 and ratified in 2014. The stark reality is that more than 17-million people in South Africa are dealing with anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, mood disorders (a major depressive episode, for example), as well as alcohol and drug use.
Neuropsychiatric disorders are ranked third in their contribution to the overall diseases burden in South Africa according to the National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013 - 2020 published by the National Department of Health of SA.
All mental disorders are potentially fatal. Any disorder that has suicide as its potential outcome can be considered to be a terminal illness. We need to work hard to change the narrative around suicide to understand it as the terminal phase of a very serious illness rather than an act of either cowardice or criminality. A failure of the brain is just the same as a failure of the heart or liver or lungs.
Much of the stigma around mental disorders arises from the belief that people can “pull themselves together” to recover from a mental disorder.
In general, once a mental disorder emerges, the best route is both through medical intervention and therapy/counselling
Knowledge, awareness and self-care are all imperative to prevent or minimise the onset of mental disorders and relapses.
Support of the person with the mental illness and the family is desperately needed. Compassion and understanding are the new paradigm in treating mental illness. Take responsibility and seek help when you are feeling depressed, anxious or stressed. Seeking help is a strength and not a weakness – it will help you and your family get through difficult times.
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