Acknowledging those living with Schizophrenia on World Mental Health Day

October is Mental Health Awareness Month. PHOTO: FILE

The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) calls on the government and medical schemes to enhance mental health care for individuals with schizophrenia, aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the World Health Organization’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2030, and South Africa’s National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan (2023-2030).

According to Dr Mvuyiso Talatala, former president of SASOP, schizophrenia patients face a significantly higher risk of premature mortality. That reduces their life expectancy 10 to 20 years, and the lack of access to mental health care continues to weaken their quality of life as well as the lives of their families.

“Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness characterised by episodes of psychosis, which encompass symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, disorganised behaviour, and incoherent communication. Without timely intervention and proper management, schizophrenia can have severe consequences on social, occupational, and interpersonal functioning.”

He further added that the stigma is glaringly evident in the insufficient funding allocated to mental health care, despite the devastating consequences of untreated mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

“Shockingly, less than 5% of South Africa’s healthcare budget is directed towards mental health care, encompassing contributions from the private sector,” he added.

Dr Talatala explained that in the private sector “the regulations of the Medical Schemes Act stipulate 21 days of hospitalisation per year for individuals with schizophrenia, with limited guidance on outpatient care, despite the existence of treatment algorithms for schizophrenia that advocate for comprehensive outpatient care”.

Therefore the SASOP urges both the government and medical schemes to “bolster community-based mental health care services for individuals with schizophrenia, requiring increased funding and improved care models.”

Thus, overcoming the stigma associated with schizophrenia demands that it be recognised as a priority by both the government and medical schemes.

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Compiled by Gypseenia Lion