Mental Illness Tragedy in South Africa

I was appalled to read an article via CBC news detailing an absolute tragedy that has recently occurred in South Africa.

The article, titled “South Africa Shocked By Deaths of 144 Psychiatric Patients,” describes the Esidimeni tragedy, a situation involving the deaths of 144 psychiatric patients who died following South Africa’s Gauteng provincial government transferring 1,711 state-funded psychiatric patients between 2015 and 2016 from Life Esidimeni, a private health care provider, to different facilities, most of which failed to be properly licensed.

In addition to the 144 deaths that have already occurred, more are expected. The location of 44 patients is still unknown.

This tragedy has South Africans shocked and concerned about their government’s dedication towards its vulnerable citizens 20 years following the Apartheid.


Sasha Stevenson, an attorney associated with Section 27, stated that “This is the biggest mass death since democracy. This is a huge system failure.”

Apparently, the South African government made the patient transfers for no apparent reason, between October 2015 and June 2016. The government transferred these individuals for unclear reasons in a rushed manner, and family members of those impacted have referred to the situation as chaotic.

The following is a direct excerpt from the CBC article:

Some patients were tied up with bed sheets and loaded into trucks or were relocated without their identification or medical records. Others were moved multiple times between facilities. A health ombudsman’s report released in February 2017 called the process “negligent and reckless and showed a total lack of respect for human dignity. Conditions at some facilities were abysmal. Many patients were not given sufficient water and food, regular baths or appropriate medication. Many of the centres were overcrowded; in some cases, severely ill patients were left to sleep on benches or the floor.”

Personally, I am experiencing difficulty in attempting to properly comprehend the severity of this situation. I find it absolutely devastating, discouraging, and alarming that this level of mistreatment towards individuals with mental health issues occurred in South Africa, and I am interested in following this story and learning the long-term implications of what has occurred.

Photo credit: <a href=”″>Feggy Art</a> on <a href=”″>Visual hunt</a> / <a href=””&gt; CC BY-NC-ND</a>


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