Global mental health report blasts South Africa for Esidimeni

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Exactly a year after the start of the arbitration hearings that sought justice for the families of the dead Life Esidimeni patients, the esteemed The Lancet medical journal has released a global mental health report condemning the local disaster as “tragic”.

Exactly a year after the start of the arbitration hearings that sought justice for the families of the dead Life Esidimeni patients, the esteemed The Lancet medical journal has released a global mental health report condemning the local disaster as “tragic”.

“In 2016, a tragic case occurred in South Africa when the Gauteng Department of Health stopped funding a large 2000 bed facility and allowed the dis¬charge of vulnerable people with psychosocial disability into unlicensed community residential facilities, leading to the death of over 140 people,” noted the 46-page report which brought together global mental health experts, advocates and mental health users.

Penned by the Lancet Commission on Mental Health, the report highlighted that people living with mental illnesses still routinely suffer “gross human rights violations” including “torture”.

According to the report, mental disorders are rising in every single country in the world and will cost the world’s economy $16 trillion by 2030.

Today [October 10] marks World Mental Health Day, and the report notes that young people bear “the brunt of the burden of mental ill health”.

Half of all mental illness starts by the age of 14 with most cases undetected and untreated, according to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO).

Globally, “depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents” with suicide being the third leading cause of death in 15 to 19-year-olds, noted the WHO. Among 15 to 29-year-olds, suicide jumps to second place.

More than 90% of these suicides occur in in low- or middle-income countries.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), almost one in five teens have considered suicide and they have had reports of suicides in children as young as six years old.

“The youth are not equipped with enough coping skills or support structures to handle the kind of problems that they have to deal with every day,” said SADAG’s Cassey Chambers.

The organisation is particularly concerned about the upcoming matric and university examinations, a time where suicide attempts are at their highest.

Along with highlighting mental illness in young people, the Lancet report recommended government’s be held accountable and approach mental health from a human rights basis.

“The Commission calls out the shameful and shocking treatment of people with mental ill health around the world,” said Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet.

While the Commission’s report recommended “a wholescale shift to community-based care”, it should not be implemented in the negligent and torturous manner of the Life Esidimeni move.

Professor Vikram Patel, one of the Commission’s editors, said that mental health “is the foundation of human capability that makes each life worthwhile and meaningful”.

“Anyone who cares about poverty, education, social cohesion or economic progress should work to improve mental health, putting the vast knowledge we have on promotion, prevention and care into action,” said Patel.

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