Stressful lifestyles are influencing mental disease in South Africa

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Increasingly stressful lifestyles as well as a growing awareness of the impacts thereof has led to a significant rise in the diagnosis and treatment sought for mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and bipolar mood disorder, particularly among professional South Africans.

This according to Graham Anderson, Principal Officer of Profmed, the medical scheme catering exclusively to graduate professionals, who says statistics indicate that Profmed’s latest member profiles in 2013, when compared to 2012 revealed a 50% increase in those suffering from severe depressive episodes without psychotic symptoms; and a 75% increase in those suffering from severe depressive episode with psychotic symptoms.

“Depression and bipolar disorders form part of the top 15 diagnosis codes used, and contribute to some of the highest psychiatric benefits used during the 2013 service period,” explains Anderson.

More diagnoses mean more support

According to Anderson, while stressful lifestyles are certainly a contributing factor in the increased incidence of mental diseases among young professionals, easier diagnosis of these conditions is also resulting in an increase in the number of people who are receiving medical treatment for mental diseases such as stress, anxiety and depression.

“A better understanding of these disorders and the fact that they can be very effectively treated has led to the decrease in the stigma that existed for people who were diagnosed with these ailments in the past. This awareness has resulted in more people being willing to take control of their mental health with treatment so they can continue to function normally in their work and personal lives,” explains Anderson.

Anderson says many workplaces, being aware of the impact that mental diseases such as stress and depression have on workplace productivity, are also encouraging employees to seek better treatment for conditions that were never previously acknowledged.

Companies should focus on employee health

“It’s widely acknowledged that improved employee health translates into less absenteeism and  increased productivity and therefore we are seeing a marked increase not only in patients seeking psychological assistance with regards to stress-related mental diseases, but also in the number of patients on medication for these conditions,” he says.

Anderson notes that while this is a very encouraging development for workplace productivity in South Africa, the reality is that only 16% of the South African population are currently members of a medical scheme. Therefore, because mental disorders such as anxiety are not considered high health priorities, those who cannot afford treatment are often left to suffer on their own because the public healthcare system is not always equipped with staff and appropriate medication to deal with these patients.

“Like any illness, it is imperative that treatment for mental illness is provided in the public healthcare system to allow people the opportunity to lead normal and successful lives,” he urges.
Anderson says symptoms of depression and anxiety are still often overlooked and untreated and there is still a need for increased awareness of mental disease and its effects on the broader population.

Mental illness awareness should not only be driven in the month of October, but should be an on-going initiative to improve access to treatment.

“Mental health is a crucial, but often overlooked part of a person’s overall health. It’s therefore critical for South Africans to take the necessary precautions; ensure that they maintain a balanced lifestyle and know when to take some time off when needed; follow healthy eating patterns and exercise regularly to manage their stress factors better.

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