Alexander Forbes Health has released medical aid data that reveals a steady decline in the number of South Africans claiming for mental health treatment for the past five years.

Alexander Forbes Health delivers healthcare consulting advice and member support services to over 600 corporate clients, and provides actuarial and technical consulting services to various medical schemes.

According to Alexander Forbes Health, the total prevalence per 1,000 lives of people claiming for mental health treatment on their medical aids has dropped from 5.51 in 2011 to 4.92 in 2015.

“This means either fewer people are seeking help – because studies show that the extensiveness of mental conditions is actually increasing – or that fewer people are using medical aid services to manage mental illness,” said Medical Advisor at Alexander Forbes Health, Dr Lerato Motshudi.

Dr Motshudi says according to trends observed during December, beneficiaries tend to claim significantly less for psychiatry and psychology but, in January of every year, claims tend to be approximately double. Over the period investigated, the prevalence for psychiatry and psychology claims (medication and consultations) averaged 5.46 per 1,000 lives where females were 6.47 per 1,000 lives and males averaged 4.13 per 1,000 lives.

“The perceived increase in the generality of mental illness is partly due to the public’s readiness to recommend help-seeking for individuals with various mental health disorders,” said Dr Motshudi.

The National Institute of Health has estimated that one in every three people is directly or indirectly affected by mental illness. Globally, mental illness is amongst the top four causes of incapacity in the workplace,” continued Dr Motshudi.

The WHO projects that by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of world disability and by 2030 it is expected to be the largest contributor to the disease burden.

Many mental disorders require more than just a short period of medication intervention, in fact, Dr Motshudi says most patients need several months or years of medication or even lifelong medication in order to control their illnesses and maintain a chemical balance required to prevent a relapse.

“Our investigation of Bipolar Mood Disorder showed an average prevalence of 1.12 per 1,000 lives. One would expect to see less variability in the number of claiming beneficiaries and the amounts claimed as Bipolar Mood Disorder is a Primary Medical Benefit (PMB) chronic condition, meaning there are a set of defined benefits that members are entitled to in order to ensure access to certain minimum health services, regardless of the option they are on,” said Dr Motshudi.

“In addition, this is a lifelong condition where treating psychiatrists would like to ensure they maintain optimal control of symptoms,” continued Dr Motshudi.

Motshudi said what was evident and should be noted by healthcare givers was that time of year influences the well-being and behaviour of patients.

“There has to be a conscious effort in managing patients around the time when we know they are likely to default or take a ‘vacation’ from their treatment. Medical professionals need to look at the reasons for non-compliance and ways in which this can be curbed,” concluded Dr Motshudi.

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