Rise In Depression
Despite mental health services in South Africa being severely underfunded, there was a 58% rise in people diagnosed with severe depression between 2009 and 2013. That represents over 400,000 people in South Africa suffering from a major depressive disorder.
Even mild depression can lead to time off work or low productivity. It can also lead to suicide, a principal cause of death among 15 to 29 year olds. So it makes sound economic sense for governments to be ploughing resources into mental health awareness and psychiatric services.
But that’s not the case in South Africa where, according to Dr Mvuyiso Talatala, board member of the Psychiatry Management Group (PsychMG), not enough resources are available for treatment of depression at primary health care level in the public sector and in outpatient care in the private sector. He believes that it is this gap in funding that is contributing greatly to the under diagnosis of depression and preventing people seeking treatment.
The rise in reported numbers is down to the continued emphasis on the more severe illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Dr Talatala wants similar access to help for those with milder symptoms.
He believes that a cultural shift is needed to encourage people to seek help, with too much stigma still being associated with mental illness, and that it is this stigma that is preventing people with depression from talking to their family or colleagues.
“Stigma stems from a lack of knowledge, awareness and it being perceived as a cultural taboo”, he says. “The lack of access to medical help results in a community that does not have people who have been successfully treated for depression who could talk about their journey and destigmatise mental illness. Psychiatry in the townships and rural communities ends up being associated with treatment of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia itself carries a lot of stigma. Seeing a psychiatrist for one’s depression then becomes associated with seeking help for schizophrenia and being ‘crazy’.”
Doctor's describe depression as an illness, albeit one characterised by symptoms such as persistent sadness and loss of interest in daily activities, rather than any physiological signs. Events such as World Health Day, which this year focussed on mental health, serve to create world-wide awareness of the conditions and various treatment options.
“Symptoms of hopelessness, worthlessness, indecisiveness, lack of sleep or increased sleep, reduced or increased appetite and at times anxiety, lasting longer than two weeks might be a sure sign of depression,” he says. He goes on to emphasise that mild depression is treatable - but only if you seek help early on.
“I would suggest going to a public health clinic or a general practitioner and voice your concerns as soon as possible,” he goes on. “It’s important that patients adhere to and stick to treatment. Too often patients stop using medication mid-way of their treatment with long-term effects on their healing process.” For psychiatry help contact Psychiatry Concierge.