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Township residents’ mental health on shaky ground: Survey

The need for mental health education was an issue expressed by many community members.
The need for mental health education was an issue expressed by many community members.
Image: Supplied

Township residents are depressed, hopeless and feeling worthless.

These are some of the findings of a survey conducted by the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) among 1,175 residents in Diepsloot and Ivory Park, Gauteng.

The survey revealed crime, unemployment, substance abuse, lack of adequate housing and Covid-19 are among their biggest concerns.

“Interestingly, crime and unemployment are reported more by residents in Diepsloot  while substance abuse and the pandemic are bigger issues in Ivory Park,” said Sadag’s Cassey Chambers.

In the few past months, 20% of the people felt depressed most of the time, while 14% felt hopeless.

“It’s clear to see the toll the pandemic has had when 19% of residents felt like everything is an effort, 16% felt worthless, and 14% felt ‘so sad that nothing could cheer them up’.”

People in these two communities said they learnt the most about mental health from local clinics and counselling centres, the media and social media.

An overwhelming number of residents felt they needed to source help for mental health issues starting with government clinics, but 50% said they knew about the Sadag container counselling centre and could go there for help.

“Living in impoverished, disadvantaged and over-crowded areas is always tough.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges the residents of Diepsloot and Ivory Park face. specifically crime, unemployment, substance abuse, and inadequate housing.

“A survey of the townships’ residents in this tough pandemic has recently been conducted to find out more about the mental health issues they are facing and the need for help,” said Chambers.

“Many residents in these two areas are poor and are continual victims of crime, poverty and an often uncaring and inaccessible system.”

Examples of issues include teaching men how to talk about their emotions, and helping women cope with postnatal depression.

While one in five of township dwellers asked for mental health care services and professionals to be brought into the community, the importance of mental health education was underscored by nearly one in two.

The need for mental health education was the most pressing need expressed by many community members who wanted to learn more so they could help others and dismantle stigma built on myths regarding mental illness, the research showed.

“Mental health refers to people who are depressed or traumatised, and even those who are not. It is how you are in your mind,” said an Ivory Park resident.

When talking about awareness, there was a sense that conventional awareness practices were popular, with many respondents showing an interest in events focused on mental health, talks and door-to-door campaigns.

“While the pandemic has made that difficult, our centre teams are out and about in Diepsloot and Ivory Park.

“With a quarter of the survey sample over the age of 45, the support for in-person awareness was not surprising as social media has been deemed to be the understanding of the younger individual,” said Chambers.