SA needs to invest in mental health services – professor

Professor Dan Stein.

Johannesburg – South Africa needs to invest in mental health services and research, says psychiatry professor.

Johannesburg – Award-winning psychiatry professor Dan Stein believes that South Africa needs to invest more deeply into assisting those with mental disorders.

“There is often a feeling that there isn’t enough money for mental health services and research,” said Professor Dan Stein, one of the recipients this week of a National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Award for research and output.

“The problem is that not providing enough services and doing the related research on how to optimize such services, is vastly more costly than doing so.  So every year, we as a country lose more and more money because we haven’t made the right investments in the past.”

The NSTF Awards, now in their 17th year, were the first science awards in the country and are now the largest platform upon which contributions to science, engineering, technology and innovation are recognized.

Stein said he hoped his award would bring attention to the importance of mental disorders, as well as acknowledge the exciting work that colleagues in his University of Cape Town Dept of Psychiatry & Mental Health, the Stellenbosch University/UCT MRC Unit, and the UCT Brain-Behaviour Initiative were doing in the area.

In a nutshell, Stein’s research focuses on psychiatric disorders, in particular, looking at anxiety and related disorders, the most prevalent psychiatric conditions throughout the world.

He said his work was driven by a fascination with “the brain, in the way people think and feel, and also in the way society impacts on the brain-mind…

“I’m interested in questions about how people come to see the world the way they do – we each seem to approach the world with particular lenses – and what drives people to think, feel and act in the way that they do.”

Stein said part of his work was also to keep an eye out for his own lenses on how he sees the world: “and how to best correct them…  reflecting on what’s driving me and how I might improve my own navigation in the world.”

The professor said he was excited by the three research projects with which he was currently involved.  These included a cross-country neuro-imagining collaboration (ENIGMA), as well as one focusing on neuro-genetics (N-GAP).  He was also involved in a fascinating birth cohort study (Drakenstein Child Health Care Study).  Neuro-imaging is the process of obtaining images of brain structure and/or activity, while neurogenetics looks at the relationship between genes, the brain and neurological workings.

Stein said his current reading matter was a book that summarized research on happiness: “These are the sorts of questions that interest me! My family – my wife and three wonderful kids – are my greatest source of joy and pleasure.”


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