SOUTHERN CROSS Highlights CATHCA's Mental Health Project

CATHCA launches project aimed to address mental health issues.

Mental health problems are at crisis point in South Africa, with those affected facing stigma and even social exclusion — which leads 73% to not seek help.

Dr Melese Shula of the Catholic Health Care Association explains the problem,

Public knowledge of one’s mental illness can result in social exclusion, which can create a  tumbling block for seeking support. In many cases, that exclusion as well as lack of support and  treatment can lead to suicide. The mental health crisis gets worse because many people don’t even know where to go to get help, or are too scared to seek it.

MENTAL HEALTH IS A Public health problem in South African society today.  According to statistics released by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) just a year ago, as many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems — and this doesn’t even include more serious conditions such as bipolar disorder or  schizophrenia. Additionally studies indicate that over 40% of people living with HIV in South Africa have a diagnosable mental disorder. 

The shocking part is that only 27% of South Africans reporting severe mental illness ever receive treatment. This means that nearly three-quarters of these sufferers are not accessing any form of mental healthcare at all. We understand that  stigmas surrounding mental health pose a major stumbling block. Stigma, discrimination
and misinformation related to mental health conditions, as well as concerns about the cost of healthcare or counselling services, contribute to a substantive treatment gap.

Parish pilot project

To that end, earlier this year the Catholic Health Care Association of Southern Africa (Cathca)  launched a one-year pilot project, funded by the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers to support the Catholic parishes of All Saints in Ennerdale and Our Lady of Mercy in Emdeni, both in the archdiocese of Johannesburg, to develop a Parish Mental Health Ministry as an integral part of their parish activities.

It is important to get the Church involved on the parish level. The primary burden of mental  healthcare falls on community-based providers. Clinics, support groups, even lay counsellors and community leaders are having to step in where institutionalised help is not available.

Experts in mental health indicate that the nature of South Africa’s mental health situation requires a South African, context-based solution. Cathca’s parish mental health ministry is intended to raise awareness around mental health issues in their particular contexts.

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated mental health conditions, especially among the poor and vulnerable in our society. Socioeconomic factors also have a negative impact on mental health.

Cathca decided to embark on the journey of implementing a parish mental health ministry to motivate community leaders to join hands in creating awareness around these issues, and to work together towards eradicating the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We selected two parishes in the archdiocese of Johannesburg where there are two Cathca member organisations active. This pilot project will help us understand how parish communities take to this ministry. After a year, we will involve other parishes to join in the fight against the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health, and to encourage those affected to seek help.