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‘If I don’t keep going, it will all crash’: SA doctors open up about depression

According to the South African Medical Association, a global study among medical specialists has revealed that staff are twice as susceptible to mental health problems compared to professionals in other sectors.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group has urged the government to step up efforts to help medical staff who are struggling to cope, highlighting that negligent doctors put patients’ lives at risk. Picture: pexels.com

JOHANNESBURG - Concerns have been raised around medical doctors who have to grapple with mental health issues over and above their heavy workload.

According to the South African Medical Association, a global study among medical specialists has revealed that staff are twice as susceptible to mental health problems compared to professionals in other sectors.

Eyewitness News looks at the impact of mental health on public servants, as part of a wide-ranging look into the state of South Africa’s healthcare sector.

After a heart monitor is switched off and a body bag is zipped up, doctors have to deliver the devastating news of a loss of life to a waiting family. Not a minute too long after this, they have to rush again to save someone else’s life.

WATCH: Stigma around mental health keeps doctors vulnerable to depression

This is the reality for many medical professionals. And for those working in state hospitals, they speak of burnout and major depression as they contend with many other challenges, including overstretched resources and staff, often leading to working overtime.

Professor Bernard Janse van Rensburg is a psychiatrist at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg.

He said: “There are concerns as there’s increased anxiety and depression.”

He said several doctors in the private and government sectors are suicidal because of these extreme working conditions.

Doctor Nokukhanya Khanyile is an advocate for mental health awareness in her field and works in a government hospital.

She admits her own mental health has taken its toll due to the pressures and scale of her work.

“If I don’t keep going, it will all come down and crash. But I have to keep going because people depend on me. There’s guilt because it feels like I am betraying myself, but at the same time, I need to do my duty.”

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group has urged the government to step up efforts to help medical staff who are struggling to cope, highlighting that negligent doctors put patients’ lives at risk.

WATCH: Suicide, Esidimeni jokes & bad working conditions - former cop on mental health neglect in force

Former lieutenant colonel Faith Walaza resigned this year after serving the public for more than a quarter of a century. She was exposed to traumatic incidents, including the torture of xenophobic victims and women being raped by rebels in conflict-affected areas.

Walaza said she wished there was no stigma around getting help.

“What must I do? Can I say it’s an accident and plunge the car through the bridge, and then it falls?”

Firefighters have also spoken about the culture of not sharing their battles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

One firefighter told **EWN **they experienced one horror after the next, often comforting grieving families, despite struggling to cope themselves.

“We’ve only been able to help each other via our own little groups, some of the guys were feeling suicidal.”

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