THE MENTAL HEALTH INFORMATION CENTRE

 

Did you know that about one in five South Africans suffer from a mental disorder severe enough to affect their lives significantly? Roughly 25% of all general practitioners' patients are ill due to psychiatric rather than general medical conditions. Nearly 20% of high school students a year think about fatally harming themselves. Nevertheless, thousands of South Africans would rather die than admit that they suffer from some sort of mental illness.

Mental disorders are real and they have a significant negative social and economical impact on South African society. The costs of alcohol abuse through health and medical expenses, lost productivity, violence and crime, are more than R5 billion each year. The costs of other mental disorders, particularly when they are diagnosed late, are at least as high as those for substance abuse. In addition to this, there are the human costs of mental disorders e.g. individual suffering, marital disruption, and family breakdown.

One of the greatest obstacles to preventing mental illness, and improving services and treatment, is ignorance. Medical researchers have gained important new insights into the causes of mental disorders and have developed new and effective treatments for these conditions. Early diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders can lead to rapid recovery and can substantially reduce economic and personal costs of illness. The need to improve previously neglected mental health and substance abuse services has been highlighted by the Government.

The Mental Health Information Centre aims to address some of these issues by: · promoting public awareness of mental health issues and research into mental illness · encouraging early diagnosis and treatment of mental illness · addressing the stigma associated with mental illness · promoting the good mental health of all South Africans

The Centre attempts to meet these goals by: · providing a telephone information service to the public · providing the media with facts about mental disorders · providing general practitioners, nurses, and other professionals with information · distributing a mental health resource guide and other mental health publications · doing research on consumer related mental health issues · creating projects, e.g. clinical and other services open to the public

The Mental Health Information Centre has been in operation since 1995, it received formal recognition from the Medical Research Council (MRC) of South Africa in 1997, and continues to work closely with the MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders, directed by Prof. Dan Stein. These disorders are the most prevalent of all psychiatric disorders and deserve special attention.

Publications: The Mental Health Resource Guide published by the Centre comprises a comprehensive list of mental health professionals, consumer organizations delivering a mental health service, and institutions that offer mental health treatment. The Guide is made available to all doctors and mental health practitioners in South Africa. Our other publications include the patient guide: False Alarm" How to Conquer the Anxiety Disorders; the prescription guide: Psychiatric Medication in Primary Care Algorithms and Guidelines; and an Afrikaans student guide: Handboek vir Psigiatrie. We have developed our own information brochures on each of the major psychiatric disorders, and also stock several international publications. These are distributed free of charge to callers. Visit us at our internet site http://www.mentalhealthsa.co.za. Many of our informational brochures can be downloaded from our internet site.

Research The Mental Health Information Centre conducted an extensive research project assessing community attitudes towards mental health, the mentally ill and different treatment options. Our researchers extended the study to include the Xhosa-speaking community, general practitioners, mental health professionals and community clinic nurses. We refer appropriate candidates to research protocols throughout the country. This includes referrals to the recently established Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Clinic at the University of Stellenbosch Medical School. The Centre also acts as a referral source for the Bathuthuzele Youth Stress Clinic, which has been jointly established by the MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders and the Universities of Stellenbosch, Western Cape and Cape Town. The clinic aims to offer a free and accessible community service to children and teenagers in the Western Cape who have experienced violence or extreme trauma.

Services: The Mental Health Information Centre has already reached thousands of South Africans, receiving calls from all over South Africa, from neighbouring states, and from further afield. We are able to take calls in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu. Most callers state that they are extremely satisfied with the service we provide. The Centre helps prominent newspaper and magazine journalists prepare articles on mental health problems such as depression, panic disorder, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These articles are read by thousands of South Africans. Information on mental health issues is provided to many professional and consumer bodies, including the Department of Health, the Society of Psychiatrists of South Africa, and the Depression and Anxiety Support Group. As an expansion on the above, the Centre give lectures to many schools and corporations on mental health issues. We are able to help such institutions identify common mental illnesses and refer people for appropriate treatment. The Centre also presents educational talks and programs directly to the public and is regularly invited to discuss mental health issues on the radio and television. We have presented seminars on Anxiety Disorders to members of the public and paramedical professionals. We also periodically premiere theatre productions at the Nico Malan and Baxter theatres, so raising awareness about mental illness and its treatment. Furthermore, we offer volunteers who hold a basic psychology or related background, the opportunity to gain experience in research and pschoeducation. Such volunteers are presented with a certificate of service at the completion of their volunteership. We also welcome medical and paramedical students to work in our Centre as part of their curriculum.

Awards The Mental Health Information Centre is the recipient of the 1999 OCDi award. The Obsessive Compulsive Disorder initiative (OCDi), in association with the OCD Section of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), presented this award in recognition of our work in patient support, public and professional education, and innovations in diagnosis and clinical management of OCD. We received this award in Hamburg, Germany, during the WPA Congress. The Mental Health Information Centre facilitates the annual National Anxiety Disorders Awareness Week. In collaboration with consumer groups and the pharmaceutical industry, a national mental health awareness campaign is hosted annually around 10 October, World Mental Health Day. The radio advertisement aired during our 1999 campaign won an Advertising Association Award. Many of our staff members have received individual recognition for their research work in mental health.

As a token of our commitment to the promotion of mental health and the destigmatization of such disorders, the Mental Health Information Centre presents an annual media award to an exceptional journalist in this field. Past recipients include Libby Peacock of Fairlady, Judith Soal of the Cape Times, and Anthea Warner of Radio Sonder Grense.

Mental health and the Corporate Sector It is becoming increasingly important for businesses to contribute to the holistic wellbeing of South Africans. Mental Health and Substance Abuse are key issues that need to be adequately addressed. The cost of mental illness at the workplace is enormous. Healthier workers are more productive workers. Early diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems will ultimately save South Africa billions of rands.

Specific costs and future projects Costs of our Centre include staff salaries, mailing costs (e.g. stationary, postage), toll-free telephone line, faxes, and internet use. We would also like to offer a fellowship for a young psychiatrist to spend time working in our Centre. We would like to do more research on psychiatric conditions in South Africa, particularly on how to address community attitudes.

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