Young or old, man or woman, child or adult… mental illness can affect anyone.
However, your background and who you are definitely informs how mental illness is dealt with. In our article on
Sport and Mental Illness, we discussed the stigma surrounding mental health issues among
celebrity sportsmen, who are often made to suffer in silence because of it.
Mental Health and Wealthy People
With the state of the current mental health care system in South Africa, it can be said that money
is a significant barrier to quality treatment and support. State facilities are under-resourced and
under-funded, which makes private psychiatric care the better option for those looking to
properly manage their mental health problems.
However, private care is not something that is easily affordable by all those affected. In fact, statistics reveal that more than a third of the country’s population is struck by mental illness, and a large percentage of those fall within the
lower- and working-class range. So how does mental illness affect those who are better off
financially? Is it any different to those who are not?
Well, access to care is the biggest difference.
When you belong to a medical aid that allows regular therapy sessions, or have enough money to
pay for them yourself, the outcomes of your condition is greatly affected.
Then there is also the mindset regarding mental illness among the rich. Popping off to see your
therapist between getting your nails and your next yoga session is considered a norm. Very few
stigmas apply in this world. It gives you the freedom to acknowledge and deal with your
problems in a way that is healthy.
You are also able to tailor your treatment to best suit your
schedule and lifestyle. Some therapists don’t even use consulting rooms, opting to meet up with
their clients in a space that is comfortable for them – whether it be a walk in the park, or brunch
at their favorite café. This freedom makes a huge impact on treatment as well as managing your
condition in the long term.
On the other hand, wealth has long been considered a risk factor to mental health. With more and
more affluent children being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, it’s becoming clear that this
specific class deals with varying pressures related to wealth and success that exacerbate
symptoms of mental illness.
They don’t have to worry about making ends meet, but stress and
pressure from work and maintaining a certain lifestyle often leads to substance abuse and
feelings of isolation. It’s become a cycle that essentially feeds itself, and while the class disparity
separates them from those who don’t have money with regard to treatment, rich people are on
equal footing with the poor when it comes to how their conditions affect them.
Mental Health and Poor People
According to The South African Depression and Anxiety Group, more and more studies are
confirming the link between poverty and mental health and despite the growing numbers of
people in this demographic in need of treatment and care, State support in this area is seriously
For people without the money to seek private psychiatric care, being entirely dependent
on government resources in a country where mental illness is simply not a priority, significantly
impacts their ability to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. The Life Esidimeni tragedy is the most
recent example when the government failed to provide adequate care to those who needed it
most. Not having the right people, enough funds, or proper resources in place led to the
unnecessary loss of many lives.
At the same time, this same system is the best hope for people
who don’t have the means to treat and manage their mental health problems in a private capacity.
It’s not enough to make access to mental health care a basic human right when the system itself
is faulty. It is imperative to have that care be of a standard through which lives are invariably
Living a life of poverty means being exposed to crime, illness, violence, and other stressful
events that are latent to this demographic. Even though it’s a complex task to answer the
question of whether poverty actually causes mental illness, it’s clear to see that this kind of
environment can definitely worsen instances of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Aside from the environment making things more difficult for those suffering with mental illness, they
also have to contend with the stigma surrounding mental health. In poorer communities
education and awareness associated with mental health problems is lacking and as such, people
are often shunned or singled out by their peers and community.
This leads to less people feeling safe enough to even acknowledge that they have a problem, let alone seek treatment for it.
What Can We Do?
We are all affected by mental illness – either directly, or indirectly through someone we know.
That is enough reason for us all to assume a small responsibility in the movement to spread
awareness about mental health. Educate yourself so that you can educate others, and gradually a
shift in mindset will occur.
The rich don’t get a free pass on mental illness, and even though have
access to better care, are still in need of support. For the poor, breaking down stigmas regarding
mental illness should be a priority, and can only happen once the truth replaces false beliefs.
Once this is done, the inevitable altering of policies will follow and those suffering from mental
illness will have the access to care and treatment they require.