Joburg Expat: How Good is the Care for Depression in South Africa?

March 21, 2016

How Good is the Care for Depression in South Africa?

A reader asked me the other day if I knew anything about medical care for depression in South Africa. She and her husband were contemplating a move to South Africa and she had dealt with anxiety during previous moves. On top of that, she was expecting a baby and would have an infant to care for, giving her the additional worry of postpartum depression.

I assured her that we had had a good experience with doctors in general and that the private hospitals we frequented - somewhat involuntarily, I can assure you, as is most often the case with hospitals - were of as good a standard as we knew from the United States.

Except I knew nothing about the care for depression, anxiety, and mental illness. So I decided to ask my faithful readers. 

I received a number of helpful answers and wanted to post them here for the benefit of other readers with similar questions.

I chose this picture for this blog post because we often feel depressed on a rainy day. On top of this,
it was the day we delivered our oldest son to his new home at the university, another cause for
sadness. But perhaps I also chose this picture because amidst all  the depressing rain, it shows a
sliver of brightness in the sky. 

First to answer was fellow expat blogger Clara Wiggins, who has written her own series about expat depression and also covers this topic in her book, the Expat Partner Survival Guide, which I've reviewed here before.

I think she will find good therapists and counsellors here but it can be an issue finding someone who understands expat issues. I'm currently running a series on my blog about expat depression. The next one will include links to online counsellors as this is the route more people are taking now.
There followed some disagreement about the counselors:

There are few doctors who specialized in mental illnesses and who can help her. Not sure the counsellors are helpful at all, just 'bla bla'. She needs to go to the doctor who specializes in depressions because it's a sickness and needs to be cured. And it doesn't matter at all if you are expat or not. It's not relevant.

One reader asked to be contacted as she herself had moved to South Africa with a new baby and struggled with postpartum depression, having a very difficult time. Fortunately, she was able to conquer it and is now "strong and able to deal with anything." 

The fact that I'm able to connect people like this through my blog is very rewarding to me.

The next reader sounded a very positive note:

In SA GPs are well informed about depression and anxiety. There are also psychiatrists and psychologists. Depression and anxiety are not uncommon. Medication for depression and anxiety is widely available in SA. Therapists/counsellors and self help groups in cities across the country are well educated and very helpful. I think it will be a bit more difficult in the countryside to find a therapist, you might have to travel a bit. Please do not worry. Make sure that if you are on medication, to take enough for a few months in order for you to find a good GP and a good therapist. SA is a developed country so no need to worry at all.

This was seconded by more readers:

[The previous reader] already said what I wanted to say. Excellent care is available. Just bear in mind that if you want to use a South African insurer there will be an exclusion period for pre-existing conditions.
I strongly endorse what [the previous two readers] have said. Our private health care is excellent and if depression issues arise your reader can be confident of first class care - regardless of whether they are rooted in the expat experience, postpartum problems or anything else. I know that moving overseas and having a baby are both scary in their own ways but whatever reservations she may have about taking up an expat assignment, I sincerely believe that her concerns about the quality of mental health care here need absolutely not be among them. Sending love 💕.

I know this sounds cheesy, but I can't help but think that when a South African sends love to a person from another country she hasn't even met and in all likelihood never will meet, this right there shows why there is nothing to worry about. South Africa will take care of our expat with anxiety, I have no doubt about it! 

The final comment provided more helpful information.

There is a organization in South Africa called the South African depression and anxiety group www.sadag.org, they have lists with specialists who most probably can offer help. Like others mentioned above, therapists and counselors are very well educated, and especially in larger cities there are plenty of them.

If you have come across this article because you are moving to South Africa and are dealing with anxiety and depression in your own family, then I hope this has helped you feel more at ease about your move, and given you some starting points dor further research.

If you have any additional information or experiences you'd like to contribute, as always please comment below!