KZN Health MEC urges church, society to support those who are struggling with depression and other forms of mental health

20 August 2023

KWAZULU-Natal Health MEC Ms Nomagugu Simelane has urged society to change its attitude when it comes to depression and other mental health ailments, saying such disorders were real and not just "fancy people's diseases."

An estimated 1 in 3 South Africans are likely to have a Mental Health issue at some point in their lifetime, and only 1 in 10 people with a mental illness come forward for help, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). Furthermore, according to a 2019 SADAG report, at least 17.6% of teenagers had considered attempting suicide, and over 20% of 18-year-olds had actually attempted suicide at least once.

Speaking at a Wesley Guild church gathering in Hammarsdale last night, MEC Simelane said: "The church is not immune from things that are happening in society. We need to have a discussion on mental health."

"Some of us grew up in an environment where if you were depressed, you got told you had a 'Fancy People's Disorder' and that if you had depression, it was because you had no problems. But reality is that we are now faced, on a daily basis, with mental health challenges that we are not addressing as Black people. And I want to be emphatic on that. It's not by mistake that I'm saying this. Our people have this tendency whereby if somebody is depressed, they get caned and told 'Wake up, wake up!,' go and have a bath, because you don't know what you're doing. And if you explain that you have depression, you get asked, 'Where did you get that from, because we've never had that in this family?'

"That's if you're lucky. If you're unfortunate, you get told you've been bewitched. So, these are things we need to start taking seriously. These are things that as society and as community leaders, we must be able to address."

Common signs of depression include persistent sadness and loss of interest in activities that are normally enjoy, for at least two weeks. People with depression may have several or all of the following symptoms: loss of energy; change in appetite; sleeping more or less;  reduced concentration; feeling anxious; feeling worthless; inability to take even simple decisions;  guilt and hopelessness. At worst depression can lead to suicide!

Due to historical institutional and funding challenges, South Africa has a limited number of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists, especially in the public sector. The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health nevertheless does provide assistance to people with mental health challenges at all levels of the health system, including at primary health care level.


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This page last edited on 22 August, 2023

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