The Craziness of Mental Health

I’ve read about the mental healthcare systems abroad, some of the “things” that are available (like therapy) and thought a lot about ours.  I’m not suggesting that things are rosy everywhere else, but merely to reflect on the system we have here.  I live in South Africa and most of the laws and policies here are like Nelson Mandela authored.  We put the D in democracy and the humane into human rights, thereotically.  In practice, it doesn’t work that way.

For example, I once “trained” a group of women in a rural area in our country on the beautiful domestic violence act we have.  Thereotically the police can intervene, you can obtain a protection order, and again thereotically, be protected.  In your home.  In your house with your children.  They listened, dilligently took notes and smiled when I paused.  When I found their silence too much I asked why they weren’t talking / participating.  One of the older women stood up and said:  “The closest police station is at least 300 km away for most of us.  The court is even further.  And you’d be lucky if they serviced you on the same day, IF you have transport money to spare / get there.  We have our own act.  If your partner is threatening violence, we hang a certain item of clothing on the line, which means I need help.  The woman who sees it alerts others in the street, and we all come for “tea”.  We stay there, with endless conversation, until the situation is diffused. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  But that’s what really helps us”.

I kept quiet.  I was humbled by what these women went through and how they tried to help each other.  But that didn’t mean that they shouldn’t be helped more, and that resources and attention shouldn’t immediately be directed to make their lives better.  In the context of mental healthcare things are even more ominous.  There are people with chronic mental illness who died because they were dehydrated.  Yes, there were other factors, but dehydration?  Not being fed?  If I consider what it’s like to have mental illness and to die for these or ANY reasons just isn’t ok.  No matter how we try to dissect it.  If you don’t have the money for private health care (it cost me about 800 US Dollars for myself and my children on private medical aid per month) you will find that there aren’t any services that are responsive enough to cater for people with mental illness, no matter how ill they are.

For example, you can’t get into a psychiatric ward without being suicidal.  This based on my own and other people’s experience has meant that you need to have tried to commit suicide and required immediate hospitalisation / care.  Not if you were intending to.  No, preventative is nice.  We don’t (although there are a few attempts) have a sufficient suicide call in number for people who feel suicidal, or their families who are a concerned.  And I will not go onto describe the ambulance service, which as the rural women teacher taught me, is just not realistic in some parts of our country.   There are frequent drug stockouts, a lack of psychiatrists in the public health system and therapy is a luxury.

I have to face the reality of this system now.  I was retrenched and do not have the resources for private healthcare.  My psychiatrist costs $150 per session, my therapist $80 and private psychiatric hospitals (which are funnily still like jails) are thousands and thousands.  The implementation of our far-reaching mental healthcare act, like the domestic violence act is failing the people who it was designed to poetically protect.  And most people with mental illness do not in our country, have communities of support where they can hang the “I need help underpants” on the line.  We need to draw attention to the state of the system (or perhaps the lack of it), the way people with mental illness are treated and the services they are subjected to, and the not so silent genocide of people with mental illness in our country.  I intend to.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

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25 Replies to “The Craziness of Mental Health”

  1. This is so sad. The same stories here in Nigeria as well. For a population of 190 million people, It is embarassing to say that we have only 130 psychiatrists in the entire country. A big shame

    1. Yup. It needs to be addressed and we need to stop being quiet. Strength to you. ❤

    1. Thanks friend. Unfortunately I’m just telling the truth. But maybe if we make more noise, someone will listen. If not anything else, it will let people with mental illness know we matter. And we need that.

  2. Wow, this is atrocious. I thought the mental health care in my country was bad, but this is really below the line. There must be something to do?!

    1. It is like this… And worse unfortunately. I’ve decided to start digging a little, link to other people with mental illness. And tell the story as loud as we can for as long as we need to.

      1. Good way to go! It’s about getting the stories out and ending the stigma!

  3. This is a great read and absolutely hits you in the feels!

    Love the fact that you’re out here raising awareness!

    If you get a chance please drop my page and have a look at some of the content would love to get your views on it

  4. I’m from India and sadly, the situation is same here. And regarding, psychiatric hospitals resembling jails, it struck my mind before as well. It seems the system is designed to punish us, if we have mental ailments. So much for a democratic government.

    Thank you sharing for story. I feel a tad less alone now.

    1. Yes I dont know why but the mentally ill are punished for something they never asked for. Strength to you. ❤

  5. its a similar scenario in the UK (at least where I live) admissions to hospital seem to require an attempt on ones life. its absurd!

    Peace 🙂

      1. indeed. Sadly though there is more profit in treatment than there is in prevention. depressing thought but that’s how It seems to me :/

      2. If people could get help before they reach the point of suicide. its would be a much smoother and shorter process required from the doctors

  6. There is a lot of talk in the UK about mental health provision: a lot of good PR. I’ve worked in many different mental health services and I’ve concluded that much of the PR is lip-service and that service provision is a sophisticated variation on Victorian ideas. The authorities really do not seem to want to investigate the real causes of mental distress and the services provided are invariably built around established ties to old ways of thinking, old ways of assessing costs, old ways of viewing people in statistical and diagnostic terms, old agendas. It’s tedious. If you are lucky enough to be referred in the NHS it’ll most likely be 12 sessions of CBT. Psychiatric wards are really stabilising pens for people who might harm themselves or others.

    I’m sorry to sound so negative. There are a few decent people out there working in the mental health field who actually know what they’re talking about because they’ve scraped the bottom of their own suffering and have knowledge of how to help others that comes from the inside-out. It’s a very different thing altogether if you’re a professional who has done most of his/ her learning from books and studies, or who may be in it for the money or social status. The good thing is you can spot them a mile away, especially if you’re emotionally raw and in a state.

    1. Hi Stephen – I couldnt agree more. In South Africa where I live, therapy is NOT available in our country at ALL unless you go the private route. We need to stand up, say this is not good enough and demand more.

      1. I agree. In the meantime, I think our culture has to change around the world. I see obvious links between mental distress/ vulnerability/ illness and the destruction of communities and the kinds of authentic social bonds that existed when I was a kid. Not that it was perfect then of course, but at least people talked together and there was more of a chance of being able to go to a grandparent in the days when older people were respected. So much has to change in our world to reverse the destructive conditions that create mental distress. When we have to rely on faceless, heartless governments to support us emotionally or psychologically then it’s obvious that something in our culture is very wrong. Governments, in my view, have a huge part to play in creating mental distress via, for example, their intimate ties with big business interests, corporations and others who just want us to buy stuff and hand our money over in taxes. Government only really responds when the financial costs of mental health services begin to outweigh the costs of prevention. It’s sad, I know.

        be well.

      2. Thank you friend. ❤

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