South Africans are in dire straits as a vast part of the economy shut down and the country went into lockdown for months. As a result of job losses and businesses closing down, millions of people are going hungry every day. Worldwide, mental illness has been on the rise, and anecdotally, the pandemic is further compounding the situation.
Against all the odds, Free State continued with the implementation of the mobile application screening tool throughout the lockdown. Even though patient numbers declined drastically, hope springs eternal. All our trained nurses are positive about the new tool and problems with the use thereof have been few and far between. Nurses report finding the mobile application especially useful as it raised new awareness of mental health problems in their teenage patients, and because it made them realise that mental health screening has been neglected.
It has further been reported by one of the Free State MEGA nurses that she believes that her use of the mobile tool already saved more than one life as she detected severe mental health problems and suicidal tendencies in some of her young patients. Another reported that she now realises that mental health problems often stem from the difficult circumstances teenagers are faced with every day, including poverty, violence and substance use, and that they themselves often employ substance abuse to numb emotional pain and despair.
Importantly, the use of the mobile tool called attention to a myriad of gaps in the functioning of the mental health care system, to the degree that, at times, it seems to be ill-equipped to meet demands for particularly secondary and tertiary mental health care. The Free State will continue to implement the mobile tool still for some months and the team is looking forward to conducting focus group discussions at the end of the pilot.