In a country afflicted by endemic violence and social inequality, South Africa is a country in which evolving structural violence continues to perpetuate deep-rooted inequality, poverty and social injustice. The mental health sector is not immune to this and often struggles with the same issues faced on a societal level. Mental health in South Africa is increasingly becoming a social crisis; According to the South African government, around 400 million people worldwide suffer from mental health illness. This also include disorders related to alcohol and drug abuse. Also, there are about 23 suicides a day recorded and 230 serious attempts, with approximately eight hundred thousand people committing suicide each year.
One in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems (and this does not include more serious conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia). Furthermore, research reveals that over 40% of people living with HIV in South Africa have a diagnosable mental disorder. A study done by UCT’s Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health indicates that, in low-income and informal settlements surrounding Cape Town, one in three women suffer from postnatal depression, while research from rural KwaZulu-Natal shows that 41% of pregnant women are depressed more than three times higher than the prevalence in developed countries.
Only 27% of South Africans reporting severe mental illness ever receive treatment. This means that nearly three-quarters of these sufferers are not accessing any form of mental health care at all. In addition to a lack of resources, stigmas surrounding mental health pose a major stumbling block when it comes to treating these issues in South Africa. As a result many suffer in silence and are afraid of being discriminated against. Mental health illness is now known as one of the great causes of individual distress and misery in the world similar to poverty and unemployment.
Mental health illnesses are of great social, economic, and policy concern. Substance use disorders are common among low-income individuals. The relationship between income and mental health is not just found at the very bottom of the income distribution but it’s also found in those living below the federal poverty line. This clearly shows that at the heart of many mental health problems there is a lack of one’s social economic conditions.
Mental health, illness, the working class and Capitalism.
There is an inseparable relationship between mental health and social conditions. The social, political, and economic association of society must be recognized as a significant contributor to people’s mental health. Capitalism is a major determinant of poor mental health.
In capitalist society poverty, unemployment and exploitation are an essential part of the system. Ever heard of this saying? The rich continue to get richer while the poor get poorer. The system is meant to produce profit at any cost regardless of the misery extended to the health of the poor. According to the latest figures from the World Inequality Database, the top 1% of South African earners take home almost 20% of all income, while the top 10% take home 65%. This goes to show how Capitalism goes to great lengths to exploit workers and the Poor. The harder the working class works for less money, the bigger the profits for the owners and the more powerful they become. The more powerful they become, the more they’re able to impose their will on the working class, the more exploitable the working class become.
The working class in South Africa has been experiencing extreme hardship under the Covid-19 pandemic. Some workers have been forced to endure the lockdown with no money as ‘no work, no pay’ policies were implemented. Others have forcibly had their leave days deducted from them, while others must prepare for mass retrenchments after the lockdown is lifted. Under these conditions, workers are faced with are a direct attack on the working class’s mental health. This is due to the significant correlation that social factors are at least as significant and, for many, the main cause of suffering. Poverty, relative inequality, being subject to racism, sexism, displacement and a competitive culture all increase the likelihood of mental suffering.
Employers’ main focus is to make a profit by underpaying their workers for the value they deliver. This unpaid value becomes profits. The more exploitation, the more profit. The relationship between mental health and capitalism is often not spoken about, but because of capitalism’s pursuit of profit, we find ourselves living under social factors that are the main cause of suffering. . Poverty, relative inequality, being subject to racism, sexism, displacement and a competitive culture all increase the likelihood of mental suffering.
Employers’ main focus is to make a profit by underpaying their workers for the value they deliver. This unpaid value becomes profits. The more exploitation, the more profit. The relationship between mental health and capitalism is often not spoken about, but because of capitalism’s pursuit of profit, we find ourselves living under social factors that are the main cause of suffering. Capitalism’s ruthless pursuit for profit violently undermined mental-health problems.
Employment under capitalism depends largely on capitalists’ decisions to undertake production, and those decisions depend on profits. If capitalists expect profits high enough to satisfy them, they hire. If capitalists don’t, we get unemployment. Therefore, capitalism requires unemployment.
The working class is always under threat of being unemployed, The constant fear for most workers is a loss of income.The fear can have major influence on a person’s mental health.This threat places the majority of workers in a more precarious position. Working under such strained conditions can make workers sickly.
Studies have found that workplace stress can negatively impact a person’s well-being, productivity, mood, and behavior. Being unhappy with, or unfulfilled by work has a significant toll on health, relationships, and even an individual’s lifespan. Mental Health America claims that “stress from work can impact their family life, mental health, and even increase risks for chronic illnesses and heart attacks.
The whole capitalist system is ineluctably rigged against workers.
In fact, you might say that capitalism is in many respects a mental illness generating system and if we are serious about tackling mental distress and illness, we also need to look into dismantling capitalism.
“Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.” –Martin Luther King, Jr
Contributor: Orthalia Kunene
Orthalia Kunene is a mother, activist, feminist and writer based in Soweto.
Her journey started as a activist fighting for service delivery issues in Soweto, with an Organisation called Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee/Operation Khanyisa Movement. Her writing gave her strength to not shy away from the truth, it gave her strength to hold local government accountable and to advocate for access to information and transparency through addressing socio-economic issues; inequalities around gender-based violence and climate change.
She is currently volunteering for an Organisation called keep left, as a working group member, keep left is a revolutionary socialist organisation that believes in workers control of society and the means of production. She is also a volunteer at an Organization called Extinction Rebellion, a climate change Organisation that seeks to fight the climate crisis. Her main focus is on Climate change issues, gender inequality and addressing issues of capitalism and how it feeds on inequality – particularly in South Africa.