The most common mental health disorders

The most common mental health disorders

In 2014, media fact-checking website, Africa Check, questioned press reports that a third of South Africans suffer from some type of mental disorder.

In 2014, media fact-checking website, Africa Check, questioned press reports that a third of South Africans suffer from some type of mental disorder. The answer they found was that 30.3% of the adult population will suffer from some form of mental disorder“over the course of a lifetime”.  That works out to around a third.

The number of people who actually suffered from a mental health disorder during the research period the press relied on stood at 16.5% of the adult population. Within this group of people, the most common mental health illnesses were major depressive disorder, agoraphobia without panic and alcohol abuse. They each affected about 5% of the adult population.

Major depressive disorder

This disorder has three names in professional circles: major, clinical and unipolar depression. It differs from bipolar in that it has one rather than two mood-related extremes. That is, sufferers only experience the “lows”, not the manic “highs” that bipolar also involves.

As for how major depression affects people, it can mean trouble sleeping, weight loss and irritability. It can also cause sufferers to eat or sleep too much, feel worthless, struggle with concentration and memory, as well head and body aches. Suicidal thoughts may factor in too.


This anxiety disorder involves an irrational fear of open or public places. At the heart of things, sufferers fear situations where escape may be difficult, or help hard to come by.

Agoraphobia may include the physical symptoms of a panic attack, such as shortness of breath, chest pains and dizziness. In fact, the disorder often develops after having had one or more panic attacks.

Alcohol abuse

There is a very real connection between mental health issues and alcohol abuse. That is, people with mental health disorders try to sooth the uncomfortable symptoms of their condition by self-medicating with alcohol.

International landscape

In the US and UK, other common mental health disorders include schizophrenia, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Schizophrenia: It’s a mental disorder that causes symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations
  • Eating disorders: They relate to extreme disturbances in eating behaviour, and include anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: It involves behavioural disorders, and mostly affects children. Symptoms include concentration problems, hyperactivity, as well as other learning difficulties
  • Alzheimer’s: It’s the most common form of dementia. It’s a brain disease that affects memory, thinking and behaviour. It mostly affects older adults

Source – Africa check report – An AFP initiative


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