October is Mental Health Awareness Month in South Africa

The aim of this awareness campaign is twofold: to educate people about mental health and to reduce the stigma and discrimination people with mental health issues often experience. 

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group estimates that as many as one in five people will, or does suffer from a mental illness in their lives.  Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and job stress are common, and have a huge effect on the wider community.  

Even though many mental health problems can be treated at clinics and hospitals, very few South Africans with mental health problems  get the help they need. The Mental Health Care Act. Act 17 of 2002 states that mental health services should be provided as part of primary, secondary and tertiary health services.  In practice, this clearly does not always happen.

Mental illnesses are not always simple to treat, as they could be the result of an interplay between biological, environmental, social and psychological factors. 

Causes of and risk factors for mental illness

There are several different causes of and risk factors for mental illnesses. These range from: 

  • Inherited traits (other relatives have a mental illness)
  • Exposure to certain substances such as alcohol or drugs or environmental stressors before birth 
  • Reactions to stressful life situations, such as a close person’s death, or a divorce or financial problems 

How is it treated? 

It often depends on the type of mental illness, and how severe it is.  Usually a combination of treatments works most efficiently – these can include therapy, medication, and in some cases, hospitalisation.  A team approach often works best.

In the case of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, non-compliance (where patients stop taking their medication) can be a problem. 

But it is also a problem with the treatment of many other mental illnesses, and this can have serious consequences.  

Several factors can influence a patient’s compliance, namely attitudes and life situation, whether they are in-patients or out-patients, side effects of the medication, feelings of guilt or suspicion which are typical of the disorder being treated, and the level of expertise of the doctor involved. 


gov.za. (2106) Official website of the South African Government. [online] Available at:  http://www.gov.za/speeches/mental-health-awareness-month-2016-28-nov-2015-1735. Accessed on 2 October 2016.

sadag.org. (2016) Official website of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. [online] Available at: http://www.sadag.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2022&Itemid=138. Accessed on 2 October 2016.

5 safmh.org. Official website of the South African Federation of Mental Health. Available at: http://www.safmh.org.za/documents/policies-and-legislations/MENTAL%20HEALTH%20CARE%20ACT.pdf. Accessed on 3 October 2016.

Mayoclinic.com (2015) Official website of the Mayo Clinic. [online] Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/basics/treatment/con-20033813. Accessed on 3 October 2016.

schizophrenia.com. Available at: http://www.schizophrenia.com/family/compliance1.html. Accessed on 3 October 2016.

psychiatric.times.com  (2015) Website of the UBM Medica Network. Available at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/managing-compliance. Accessed on 3 October 2016.

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