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Depressed SA: Mental illness costing the nation around R161bn a year


Discovery Life said it had noted a slight but steady increase in the number of death by suicide claims.

The South African economy experiences an annual loss of approximately R161 billion due to the absenteeism of working South Africans who take leave for reasons related to mental illness.

This was revealed by Cassey Chambers of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).

Depression affects one’s cognitive ability to work and function, with a large majority of South Africans suffering from a mental illness.

According to Chambers, one in three South Africans either currently struggle or have struggled with mental illness. Sadly, only one in ten South Africans dealing with a mental illness have access to medical care and treatment.

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3000 calls

Chambers revealed that currently, Sadag receives close to 3000 calls a day from individuals who are experiencing depression.

“There are a number of factors that contribute to the high rate of depression that the country is experiencing,” she said.

This ranges from the lack of proper service delivery, the inefficiencies of government, and the cost of living.

“People are in a space in this economic situation where they don’t understand what is happening and why they are there. And so it overwhelms them. For example, there are people who call in, and they have a house, a car and all these things, but they don’t have food. And they don’t know how to provide the next meal. This causes them a sense of stress that they don’t know how to cope with, which in turn causes depression,” she said.

Hayley Parry, Money Coach from 1Life’s Truth About Money, said money is one of the leading reasons for depression amongst South Africans.

In cases of financially related depression, those affected often hesitate to seek assistance knowing that there will likely be a cost factor involved, and tragically, some of these situations end in suicide.

Increase in suicide deaths

Dr Maritha van Der Walt, Chief Medical Officer at Discovery Life, said the insurance company has seen an increase in the number of claims as a result of suicide.

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“As Discovery Life, we usually deal with the end result of extreme depression and that is death by suicide. There has been a slight but steady increase in the number of death claims we received with suicide being the cause of death in these cases,” she said.

Get active

But it is not just the state of the country that is the leading cause of a depressed South Africa. Dr Mosima Mabunda, Head of Vitality Wellness, said for many individuals it could be down to lifestyle.

“Studies have shown that exercise is the leading most effective antidepressant,” Dr Mabunda said.

“Exercise is also a preventative measure when it comes to mental illnesses such as depression. Unfortunately, not all South Africans are as physically active as they could be.”

According to the Heart Foundation, almost 40% of South Africans are physically inactive.

Dr Mabunda encouraged South Africans to get active and work on pursuing preventative measures.

Get help

Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Chief Clinical Officer at Discovery Health, said companies have better understood mental health in the work place since the Covid-19 pandemic.

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She said it was important for those who experience symptoms of depression to reach out for help, even if they don’t have money.

“There are wonderful organisations like Sadag who are out there doing what they can to help those who are suffering from a mental illness. As South Africans, we are also fortunate that we live in a society that promotes community. Reach out to your community and get the help you need. It is perhaps the only way you will get through this,” she said.

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