Substance abuse major cause of mental disorders in SA

12 October 2007 | Story by Helen Théron

Mental disorders are prevalent in South Africa, with the levels of substance use disorders higher than in any other country in the World Mental Health Survey, with the exception of Ukraine.

This was reported by Professor Dan Stein, head of UCT's Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health and director of UCT's Brain Behaviour Initiative (BBI) signature theme.

He was speaking at the South African Stress and Health Study (SASH) conference on 10 October, World Mental Health Day. The conference included speakers from Harvard University, UCT, the University of Stellenbosch, the Provincial Government of the Western Cape (PGWC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), and was co-funded by PGWC and the MRC.

Conducted between 2002 and 2004 as part of the World Health Organisation's World Mental Health Survey Initiative, SASH is the first nationally representative study of mental disorders in South Africa. It has provided a "unique data source" for the prevalence and severity of specific disorders, and can be compared usefully with international data.

"The findings show that mental disorders are prevalent in South Africa and that many go untreated," said Stein. "What we have now is epidemiological data that can be used to give input into service planning. It is great to see a conference of this nature co-sponsored by a research institution (MRC) and service planners (PGWC)."

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