The link between crime and mental health in South Africa

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Crime is a concern to all South Africans regardless of where they live or who they are.

In South Africa, a 9.3% increase in crime was reported in the first quarter of 2022 with about 6,083 murders occurring in this period. Those most affected by crime are the vulnerable members of society. The first quarter of 2022 saw a 70.5% increase in the murder of women and a 37.2% increase in the murder of children.

Rape has also increased dramatically with almost 11,000 cases reported to police. The South African Police report that a ‘staggering’ 4,653 rapes took place at the home of the rape victim or the home of the rapist and were perpetrated mostly by someone known to the victim.

Crime can change the lives of its victims by affecting their mental health negatively, as members of the Psychiatric Nursing Team in the Department of Health Sciences, Ruth Eister, Dr JD Wagner, Jenny Muller and Shirley Jaftha, can attest.

Members of the Team draw on a deep pool of expertise on the relationship between crime and mental health and are particularly alert to the fact that crime is worsened by substance abuse and that both substance abuse and crime affect mental health.

According to members of the team, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the relationship between substance abuse and crime in South Africa. According to the Governance, Public Safety, and Justice Survey 2020/21 released by Statistics South Africa, crime levels dropped during the period 2020/2021 when strict COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and a ban on the sale of alcohol were in place. This shows that when alcohol use is reduced, instances of crime and violence also fall in number. Liquor outlets are the third most likely place to be murdered in South Africa. Of the 9,556 rape cases reported in the first quarter of 2022, liquor and drugs were reported as being involved in 1,383.

Among the 72,762 cases of assault and grievous bodily harm, 3,695 were reported as related to substance abuse. For members of the Psychiatric Nursing Team, these facts and figures stress the need to address alcohol and substance abuse if the crime is to be reduced South Africa is home to about 58,78 million people with those aged between 10 and 34 making up about a third of this number. Half of all mental health disorders begin by the age of 14. However, the majority of instances go unnoticed and untreated with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression noted as conditions with the highest occurrence rates.

However, as the Psychiatric Nursing Team is eager to note, those suffering from mental ill health do not need to suffer alone. Help is available from the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). The SAFMH, a national NGO and an association of mental health practitioners promote the rights of people with psychosocial problems and intellectual disabilities. SAFMH also advocates against unnecessary institutionalization and promotes community psychiatric care. The SADAG advocates for the promotion of mental health. It runs a toll-free service for various mental health problems for all affected, assists callers in resolving their mental health issues, provides free online training to people who initiate a support group in their communities and gives ongoing assistance to such groups. SADAG is currently linked to 160 support groups. They also assist callers with substance abuse, suicide risk, work stress-related issues and so on.

Although national organisations do exist, the University of Fort Hare is extremely fortunate to have a pool of researchers whose expertise in Psychiatric Nursing Science makes them an invaluable resource to all members of the university and the communities it serves with regard to the relationship between crime and mental health.