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The Influence of Poverty on Mental Health in South Africa

The Influence of Poverty on Mental Health in South Africa
The most recent report evaluating the living conditions of men, women and children in South Africa in 2015 shows the disproportionate influence of poverty on female-led households. According to the Living Conditions Survey (LCS), approximately half of the adult population in South Africa were living below the poverty line. Broken down, 52% of women and 46% of men were experiencing poverty. Most notably, the poverty gap is larger for female-led households than male-led households. This is affecting adults and children facing poverty. Only 25.7% of children in poor areas have access to a safe place to play. This is crucial to healthy development for the children. There is a correlation between poverty and mental health in South Africa.

The Mental Health Crisis

In South Africa, mental health does not receive any sort of priority status, and in rural communities, there is no support for those struggling with mental health disorders. A study on South African health reported that at least 15% of people suffer from anxiety disorders. Additionally, 10% are suffering from depression and bipolar disorders. Unfortunately, the systems in place to support those struggling with these disorders only aid about a quarter of them. This is mostly due to the lack of funding for mental health. Consequently, this mental health crisis and lack of support can also be attributed to the stigma surrounding mental disorders, proximity to services, inequality and poverty. Poverty and mental health in South Africa are directly correlated, however, it is not a priority for health services.

Organizations Supporting Mental Health

The Mental Health and Poverty Project (MHaPP) at the University of Cape Town is a project working to build policies to break the stigma of mental health. It also provides access and support to even the poorest communities, who often face the most extreme influences of mental health disorders. The MHaPP reports that 53% of the 23 public mental hospitals provide 72-hour assessments of patients with psychiatric emergencies. However, the care is far from adequate as many suicidal patients wait multiple hours for examination.

One of the most important findings from MHaPP was that attitude and understanding of mental health issues still have a very negative connotation. Despite the care provided, people facing mental health disorders are not supported with proper care due to discrimination. Additionally, the MHaPP is working to reevaluate the structure and mindset of mental health in South Africa. Hence, the MHaPP is providing awareness to these issues.

Women are Disproportionately at Risk of Mental Health Problems

According to MHaPP researchers, one in three women in low-income communities experiences postnatal depression. In addition, research from KwaZulu-Natal found that 41% of pregnant women experience depression. This number is three times higher than statistics from developed nations. The project explains that there are strong ties between poverty, social deprivation and exposure to traumatic experiences. This directly influences the mental health of people living in these conditions.

There are correlations between poverty and mental health, especially for women who are older, widowed or in poor physical health. One of the most consistent findings in the study of poverty and mental health in South Africa is that depression and anxiety disorders increase with age.

Poverty and mental health in South Africa are issues that need to be supported by healthcare providers and services. Additionally, this issue needs to be prioritized, especially for women in poorer communities. The mental health stigma needs to be broken through awareness of disorders and alteration of mindset from the current negative outlook that discriminates against people living in poverty and experiencing mental health struggles.

Caroline Pierce
Photo: Flickr