Failing EC Health Department not doing enough to support mental health patients

As the world celebrates World Mental Health Day, it is critical that the Eastern Cape Department of Health use this time to reflect on its numerous shortcomings and how it has failed the people of this province.

There have been many revelations over the past few years relating to the inadequate treatment of mental health patients in state mental health facilities in the province. Problems such as short staffing, lack of medication, lack of beds and patient neglect have received much media attention.

It is already so difficult for people with mental health illnesses to come forward, due to the negative stigmas associated with their illnesses. Many people who should be seeking help for their mental problems, are already not doing so, as they are too ashamed.

In this province, this is being further exacerbated by the lack of support and understanding around mental health from the very Department that is supposed to provide these services.

The consequence is that many people who could be living normal lives with the correct support and medication, are suffering silently and, in severe cases, even take their lives as they cannot cope with their illness alone.

It is time for the stigma around mental health illnesses to be dispelled, and for the Department to take proper action and implement the recommendations from the recent report tabled by Health ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba.

Makgoba made it clear that the Eastern Cape Department of Health had repeatedly failed to implement its mental health care plans and had failed to develop community-based health care services. He insisted they require an external administrator to recover and take corrective action.

Mental health illnesses, like any other illnesses, require treatment and patients require support form health professionals and family members. As responsible citizens, we should all make a concerted effort to better understand the nature of mental illness, the challenges that sufferers face, and what we can do to support them and help them live their lives to the full.

The Democratic Alliance takes cognizance of Mental Health Day and will continue to fight for better facilities for mental health patients, with sufficient and compassionate medical professionals, adequate medication and excellent support mechanisms. Mental health sufferers deserve no less.