More community support for mental health care needed

Ninety to 100 Mitchell’s Plain people seek mental health care at Lentegeur Psychiatric hospital every day.

This was a statistic the Western Cape Mental Health Care review board shared with the Plainsman in the light of October being depression and mental health awareness month, and World Mental Health Day having been marked on Sunday October 10.

A few days before, on Thursday October 7, the board and Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association (MURA) hosted a mental health care workshop for members of Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum and Mitchell’s Plain Neighbourhood Watch, the police and other service providers to better understand the “unseen illness”.

Chairperson of the Western Cape Mental Health Review Board Michelle de Goede and Sophia Matthews.

Michelle de Goede, a chairperson of the board, said they had seen an increase in adolescents harming themselves, having breakdowns and crying out for help in recent months as the national Covid-19 lockdown restrictions had been relaxed.

The pandemic has strained mental health care and increased the burden on the community, the police and health care services, she said.

“In many cases the home is not the right place for everyone. They are in lockdown and do not go to school or to places of worship and community services which they cannot access,” she added.

She explained that it was important for parents and loved ones to be able to see the signs and know how to identify who needs mental health care.

Ms De Goede flanked by co-board chairperson Sophia Matthews, explained that local clinics were the first port of call when seeking mental health care assistance.

They said that up to 90% of the people seeking assistance at the Lentegeur psychiatric facility would be turned away.

She explained that when people arrived at their local clinic a dedicated nurse would assess the patient, advise and refer accordingly.

“If you cannot get the person to the clinic – that is when you call the police. When you come across someone who is mentally ill, approach the clinic for help first,” she said.

Ms Matthews said if you are turned away, you should speak to the facility manager who should ensure you get the help you need.

The board considers and reviews all admissions of mental health care patients under the Mental Health Care Act.

The women advocated for the community to support those in need of mental health care by helping to identify those in need, encouraging treatment and “catching the person before the person falls off the wagon”.

“With community support we could have less admissions,” said Ms Matthews.

MURA chairman Norman Jantjes said the workshop had been organised to help the community better understand different components of government, like social development, SAPS, justice and health.

“We are looking to inform the community so they can organise themselves, know their role and where to go for help,” he said.