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Mental Illness an Increasingly Unbearable Burden for South African Economy

8 Nov 2017

The Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health calls for investment into mental healthcare the World Mental health Day.

IN anticipation of World Mental health Day (WMHD) on 10 October 2017, the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental health hosted a roundtable discussion on Economy, Equality & Access to Mental Health Services at the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre in Cape Town on the 3rd.

Chaired by the Centre’s Co-director, Prof Ashraf Kagee from Stellenbosch University, the presentations and lively discussions touched on many aspects related to the need for sustainable solutions to South Africa’s mental health treatment gap.

Addressing the international WMHD theme, the Centre’s other Co-director, Prof Katherine Sorsdahl from the University of Cape Town, spoke about mental health in the workplace. She emphasized how work is essential for mental health and vice versa. Prof Sorsdahl specifically highlighted a study conducted in South Africa among advertising and market research industries.

“Of the 1060 employees who participated in the online survey, 26% reported a diagnosis of depression. The results of this study found that the costs associated with presenteeism was significantly higher than that of absenteeism,” she said.

Also from the Centre, Ms Sumaiyah Docrat, in her presentation made an economic case for investing in mental health in South Africa.

“In South Africa, severe depression and anxiety disorders are associated with a significant reduction in earnings for both employed and unemployed adults living with these conditions.”

Ms Docrat noted that studies show an estimated lost income of $4 798 per adult per year due to mental illness. The total annual cost amounts to $3.6 billion – a contrast to the estimated $59 million estimated annual government spending on mental health services.

Mrs Ingrid Daniels, the Director of Cape Mental Health, continued the discussion by speaking on the consequences of an event like the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

Other presenters on the day included Prof Petrus de Vries, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town, Dr Simone Honikman and Charlotte Mande Ilunga from the Perinatal Mental Health Project, Dr Jo Hart and Dr Lucie Byrne-Davis from the University of Manchester and Prof Lou-Marie Kruger from the University of Stellenbosch.
Discussions forthcoming from the event shows a desperate need for in-depth investment by the South African government into sustainable mental healthcare.

“Our government and many governments on our continent, and in fact around the world, need to make public funds available to address the mental health treatment gap. There is considerable evidence that mental health conditions are treatable and that patients can experience relief from these disorders. Our politicians, policy makers and decision makers need to develop the political will to make funds available so that more posts for psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, and social workers can be created,” says Prof Kagee.

To access recordings of all the presentations as well as the PowerPoint slides, please visit the vent website at

The Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health (CPMH) grew out of a shared vision and commitment to collaboration between members of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and the Psychology Department at Stellenbosch University (SU) and is the only mental health and psychiatry WHO Collaborating Centre in South Africa.


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