South Africa: Mind Field - SA Urgently Needs a New Mental Health Policy

Diepsloot in South Africa (file photo).
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This is the first in a series of articles on mental health. Here the writers explain why, in May 2021, South Africa faces a serious mental health policy crisis. The National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan (2013-2020) has lapsed; it requires an urgent update, specifically in light of Covid-19 and the growing mental health needs of the country.

Before Covid-19 came along and turned our lives upside down, mental health service delivery in low- and middle-income countries was already poor, with access to services hamstrung by stigma, inadequate infrastructure and poverty.

These shortfalls have become even more pronounced since Covid-19 hit, with health and social care systems ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic's sudden and severe demands. Covid-19 has led to further disruptions in mental health services, together with increases in human rights violations against mental health care users.

Apart from threatening our lives and livelihoods, Covid-19 has also highlighted inequalities and deficiencies, divisions in class and race, gaps between persons with disability and those who are able-bodied, and disparities in access to care and resource distribution.

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Covid-19 has affected mental health in wide-ranging ways, leaving no section of any society untouched....

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