Mekgwe calls for strengthened mental health services

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pretoria - Gauteng Health MEC Ntombi Mekgwe has urged health stakeholders to double their efforts to reform and restructure mental health services to improve the lives of mental health care users and their families.

Speaking at the Mental Health Summit on Tuesday, Mekgwe highlighted that Gauteng was the largest provider of mental health treatment and the only province with three dedicated mental health facilities.
However, mental health has not been receiving the attention it deserves, even within the department.

"We must lead the way in improving the quality of care and treatment we provide and in revitalising the infrastructure used for the treatment of mental illnesses. The stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness points to a need to focus on this area more closely," said Mekgwe.

Taking place at Turffontein Race Course in Johannesburg, the summit held under the theme 'No health without mental health', aims to ensure commitment and involvement of all stakeholders in advocating and protecting the rights of mental health services users, and also to strengthen relationships between services providers and service users.

Gauteng has seen an increasing number of young people below the age of 30 being admitted to mental health facilities, 22 percent of the patients admitted are younger than the age of 30.

Mekgwe said that as government and the custodian of the health and well-being of people, they were determined to pursue every conceivable path within the confines of their resources to ensure that the situation improves.

In going forward, Mekgwe stressed the need to focus on three particular areas:
 increased research to understand the impact of mental health on society;
 the coordination of best practices in the field; and
 how best to increase education and awareness of mental health issues.

She further emphasised the importance of availing mental health services at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, with primary health care facilities being the first entry points.

"Psychotropic medication should be available in primary care and general hospital settings according to the Essential Drug List and collaboration with the non-governmental organisations in order to provide services at community level can never be over- emphasized," Mekgwe said, re-emphasising that mental health is a right, not a privilege.