This summer, Teenscreen welcomed intern Anna Volpe, a rising junior at Connecticut College in New London, CT. In addition to studying psychology, Anna is part of a program called PICA (Program in Community Action), where scholars combine traditional, classroom learning with experiential projects.
For her PICA project, Anna will study mental illness in South Africa during the fall, and will continue her studies while volunteering at a clinic or hospital in Cape Town this spring. Her research focuses on the role of mental illness in South Africa, the stigma it presents, and available treatment options. We are proud to share her article on this topic.
Mental health is a crucial public health issue that has been exerting significant negative social and economic influence on South African society. Epidemiological studies have shown that 16.5% of South Africans suffered from common mental disorders (i.e. depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders1) in the last year (HHaPP, 2008).
The prevalence of mental disorders aggravated by South Africa’s history of violence, exclusion, and racial discrimination under apartheid and colonialism. Other evidence shows that “poverty, inequality, urbanization, unemployment, trauma and violence, and substance abuse are major environmental risk factors for mental illness” (Burns, 2011) within South Africa.
Furthermore, studies show that people living with HIV/AIDS are at a greater risk of suffering from a neuropsychiatric disease (Burns, 2011). This evidence has serious implications for South Africa, a country that has the greatest number of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
Meanwhile, the country faces a serious shortage of health professionals. In a recent survey, South Africa ranked 119 of 201 in terms of physicians per capita, and ranked too low for inclusion in terms of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and psychiatric beds in mental health facilities (Lund et al., 2010).
During the most recent World Anti-Stigma Congress, Dr. Eugene Allers, a South African psychiatrist, reported that there are approximately 320 practicing psychiatrists in the country – making only one psychiatrist available for every 150,000 people (South African Encyclopedia, 2012).
Continue to part two: Mental Illness in South Africa: Misunderstanding, Fear, and Stigma
1 Structural stigma refers to the violation of human rights through loss of employment, housing, voting, jury duty, holding public office, marriage, and parenting.