Governance for mental health substantially improved – Phaala

The government has substantially improved governance and human resources for mental health over the past few years, according to Health Minister Joe Phaahla.

Phaahla was speaking at a two-day mental health conference which got under way at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni on Monday.

The 2023 leg of the conference is dubbed Join The Movement, Time To Talk About Mental Health.


Phaahla said his department is being advised and supported by the ministerial advisory committee on mental health, which is chaired by professor Solomon Tshimong Rataemane.

The Department of Health has established an interdepartmental committee on mental health and is also working with law-enforcement agencies to ensure the required intersectoral collaboration.

Phaahla said the mental health services grant established in 2018 intends to increase human resources at the coalface. 

“The grant has enabled us to contract psychiatrists, psychologists, registered counsellors, social workers and occupational therapists to complement the available primary health-care staff that render mental health services in primary health-care facilities, “he said.

The grant is also used to pay contract specialists to assist with the backlog of forensic mental observations.

“Another area where the health system is doing well is in the availability of psychotropic medication,” he added.


In the process of developing the newly approved policy framework and strategy for mental health, which spans the period 2023 to 2030, the department, together with the nine provincial departments of health, documented the situation regarding mental health services.

The report highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of South Africa’s mental health programme.

He said all provinces have at least one facility rendering services for people with dual diagnosis except Mpumalanga, which refers patients to Gauteng.

Phaahla further elaborated that the equitable distribution of such resources needs attention.

He added that the absence of data, which makes it impossible for South Africa to accurately record its mental health incidence and prevalence, leads to misleading interpretations.

“I want to assure you that the Department of Health will continue to prioritise mental health. Mental health is central in our efforts towards achieving a long and healthy life for all South Africans,” said Phaahla.

A total of 144 people died at psychiatric facilities after the Gauteng department of health terminated a contract with Life Esidimeni, a long-term psychiatric care hospital that provided highly specialised chronic care to mental health care users, several years ago.

The minister described the Life Esidimeni tragedy as one of the most painful tragedies that befell South Africa and a misfortune that should never be repeated. 

 

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