Primary care starts with people. And, integrating mental health services into primary care is the most viable way of ensuring that people have access to the mental health care they need. People can access mental health services closer to their homes, thus keeping families together and maintaining their daily activities.
Why Integration of Mental Health Services in Primary Care?
It must be understood that an individual’s mental health is an integral aspect of overall health and wellbeing. Mental health care has usually been seen as a separate field but South Africa is a step ahead in that in most areas, especially in urban areas, we have what we call 1 stop clinics. This means that one can access all services including mental health care services. That means you can get a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health social worker and community mental health nurses.
It must be noted that not all the clinics are able to attend to patients with mental health problems, as a result patients have to travel far to get psychiatric assistance and this may impact negatively on them as they do not have the financial means to travel, therfore may not receive the much needed help.
Availability of treatment including medication is also a challenge- integration means that the clinics must make available the treatment for those people needing assistance. When we say mental health care services, clinics should have available the treatment to avoid sending people to hospitals far away.
The absence of pyschitrists at clinics forces patients to travel far to hospitals to get psychiatric asistance, integration in this case would mean psychiatrists visting the clinics maybe once or twice a week to see patients.
In this way, we are addressing stigma and discrimination because with mental health issues are being accommodated in the same health care facilities same as everyone else. Previously, they use to be treated in separate specific facilities, therefore with integration; people with mental disabilities are enjoying the community health services that are there for the public. And this is line with the Mental Health Care Act and the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with Mental Disabilities which was ratified by South Africa.
The topic ensures that the rights of persons with disabilities are being respected and accepted in society. It is therefore important as South Africans to embrace, accept and treat persons with mental disabilities with respect and dignity. We must remember that Mental Health is the wealth of the nation.