Mental health professionals have called for greater collaboration between Western medical specialists and African traditional healers in providing primary health care for the one in three. South Africans who experience common mental health disorders, with 75% going untreated.

Dr Lerato Dikobe-Kalane psychiatrist  and member of South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) talks to Heart Breakfast.

With World Mental Health Day on 10 October themed “Mental Health in an Unequal World”, the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) says that traditional and spiritual healers could play a key frontline role in improving access to treatment for common mental health conditions including anxiety, depression and substance abuse, and overcoming the stigma often attached to these.

Dr Lerato Dikobe-Kalane psychiatrist  and member of SASOP said under-funding and under-resourcing of public health is particularly severe in the mental health care arena, and the inequality of access to mental health care has been worsened by the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic – due to restrictions on movement, as well as the public health sector having to focus its limited resources on Covid-19 cases.

“The low number of people receiving treatment for a mental health disorder is partly due to lack of resources and access, and partly due to resistance to seeking treatment because of low mental health literacy, stigma and discrimination, and perceptions that treatment is ineffective or that the problem will go away on its own.

“This points to a need for greater awareness of mental health and encouragement to seek help, and we believe traditional and spiritual healers can play a key role in early identification, referrals and sharing cultural understanding with treatment-resistant patients who could be referred to alternative treatment modes.”

She said South Africa’s estimated 200,000 African traditional and spiritual healers were highly influential in their communities and often consulted as the first step in seeking advice or treatment, and that studies had shown that alternative practitioners could play an important role in addressing mental health care needs by offering culturally appropriate treatment.

Image credit: Total Shape

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