Drug abuse fuels mental illness

Staff members of the Stikland Hospitals Addiction Services Unit proudly wore their Team Substance T-shirts, showing their support for clients of the unit.

Psychiatric services in the province are under pressure with year-on-year increases in the number of patients seeking mental health care at Stikland Psychiatric Hospital and similar institutions, says Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo.

Dr Mbombo spoke at Stikland on Friday October 14, when the hospital marked World Mental Health Day by recognising milestones reached by patients of its Addiction Services Unit. It also celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Opioid Detoxification Unit, which helps heroin users come off the drug.

Dr Mbombo re-affirmed her department’s commitment to strengthening acute adult psychiatric services, despite limited resources. More than 6 300 mental health patients were admitted to psychiatric facilities and 43 921 treated at outpatient departments in the province in the past financial year.

These statistics are drawn from the provincial Department of Health’s four psychiatric hospitals, Lentegeur, Stikland, Alexandra and Valkenberg, as well as two sub-acute facilities, New Beginnings and William Slater.

A total of 2 321 patients were admitted to Stikland, up from 2 287 the year before.

Ms Mbombo said stigma, isolation and discrimination still dogged the mentally ill, their families and carers. The department sought to remedy that in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) theme for 2016: “Dignity in Mental Health – Psychological and Mental Health First Aid for All”.

She said: “We instituted strategies to retain mental health patients in care by improving outpatient services. This approach sees more frequent appointments post discharge and a streamlined transition from hospital to clinic by implementing increased discharge support that ensures mental health patients return for their follow-up appointments.”

With South Africa’s high crime rate and pressing social ills, mental trauma was a reality for many, said Dr Mbombo.

“Psychological and mental health first aid aims to reduce the initial distress, meet current needs, promote flexible coping and encourage adjustment and reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD),” she said.

Stikland Hospital’s CEO, Charles Barnardo, said both the Addiction Services Unit and Opioid Detoxification Unit had helped many families. The addiction unit has an alcohol rehabilitation service, open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 65, which admits about 260 patients a year.

Patients voluntarily admit themselves into the four-week programme. There is a waiting period of between three to five weeks.

The opioid unit provides seven-day, in-patient medical detoxification and helps some 360 patients a year prepare for a rehabilitation programme when the are discharged.“Substance abuse has a far-reaching detrimental effect with no exclusivity toward one particular group of people,” Mr Barnado said.

Dr Lize Weich, head of addiction services at Stikland Hospital, says the majority of mentally ill patients admitted to Western Cape psychiatric facilities have a substance-abuse problem, and dagga, tik and alcohol top the list.

“Patients with a mental illness may use substances to medicate symptoms associated with a mental illness, while other patients develop substance-induced psychiatric disorders.

“Substance-use disorders and mental illness interact and exacerbate each other, and it is thus important to address both problems in an integrated manner,” she said.

* Call the alcohol rehabilitation service at 021 940 4496 or 021 940 4429 or Slh.Ward13@westerncape.gov.za