Ward 13


[…] there are only 1,12 psychiatrists, 1,28 psychologists and 1,6 social workers per 400,000 people in South Africa. And, of the 23 mental hospitals in the country, only 18 (mental health) beds are allocated per 100,000 people. To say that this is a national crisis would be an understatement. (source)

Ward 13 is the psych ward of a state hospital an hour’s drive away. I’m an outpatient there, I get roughly half of my meds there, blood tests too, and a CT scan (amazingly enough, they managed to locate a brain). I’ll be taking my treatment resistant bipolar self there for ECT as an inpatient when there’s availability for me to do so. I’ve had nothing but excellent care there and the staff have all been incredibly efficient and friendly. Considering the psychiatric department runs at between a quarter and a half of the staff quota, they’re heroes to me. There are huge, huge problems that efficient staff can’t solve beyond interim measures – no food for patients, for example. In that instance, a member of management staff heard about it and hit the roof before buying food for them all herself. And I can guarantee you that her salary is a pittance.

I wanted to show you around the parts of the hospital that I use – photography is forbidden and that’s my excuse for the truly crappy photos (I also completely avoid photographing faces, if I’ve done so, I crop or blur them out). Bear in mind that you’re not seeing the worst side of things here. The pictures are explained in the captions once you open the slideshow. Included is a terrible photo of a sangoma (shaman).

One in three South Africans will experience a mental illness or disorder in their lifetime, according to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. The South African Federation for Mental Health estimates 8 000 people commit suicide in the country each year. Health patients such as Mabena, who are also HIV positive, are most affected by the unavailability of medication for mental illnesses.
“Sub-Saharan Africa is confronted with frightening HIV statistics and it is estimated that half of HIV-infected patients have a mental illness,” according to a Southern African HIV Clinicians Society 2014 publication.

19 responses to “Ward 13

  1. I love, love that Mandela quote. He was so right. It is so good of them to make do with such stark conditions. The whole idea is still terrifying to me and it really really shouldn’t be, for anybody. Maybe we’ll get there. Keep us posted on your ECT x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this glimpse of your world so ocean-far away. Pictures and words very haunting and evocative indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really wish you could too, but fortunately I know you well enough that intercontinental support also works in many ways. Thanks for liking my photos too, they’ve been a good distraction. And I’m so lucky to be able to access the service there, when the huge majority of mentally ill South Africans get no treatment at all, ever.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Access is much better here, but still falls short for so many – Aboriginal Canadians, the poor, those with cognitive disabilities and those with co-morbid addictions. Still wish I could be there for this treatment, or after the fact that is.

        Be sure you let me know when you get in there. And your photos really are amazing. Good therapy too.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on blah fucking polar and commented:

    I think that if I’d written this post for my own blog I’d probably have gone into more graphic detail. I will be posting more about the whole thing as time goes by though. In the meantime, please could you tell me about your experiences with ect if you’ve had it (Fryane, if you’ve posted about it, please link me). So weird, my brain is fine with the idea, I researched it ages ago and I firmly believe it’s a good option (I’m starting clozapine soon too, why hello regular blood tests, it’s been a while). My mind, on the other hand (and I have no idea wtf it’s doing there), is asking how the hell my life took this route. My mind will catch up with my brain though.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Shit – I JUST read this post and spotted your comment – YES, I will link ECT stuff in my next comment, my friend – right now I gotta go pick up one of the freaks at school and then will do it the minute after I get home!!!!!


    p.s. for the record I’m a big unicornfarty believer in ECT;
    I’d do it again in a heartbeat!!! Shit, I’d seriously loved to be zapped right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Just found this and started watching it and he’s funny so far….

    Sherwin Nuland
    How electroshock therapy changed me
    Surgeon and author Sherwin Nuland discusses the development of electroshock therapy as a cure for severe, life-threatening depression — including his own. It’s a moving and heartfelt talk about relief, redemption and second chances.

    Scroll down to select his talk – sorry I couldn’t get more direct



  6. I just realized that Sherwin Nuland gave his talk in Monterey, CA, which is a bit woo woo to me because that’s where I went for my ECT at CHOMP. I’m not sure where had his his ECT yet….

    He spoke in 2001 long before I was diagnosed in 2007. 2001 – that was an awful year due to 9/11, but for me it was good as I got married and didn’t think I had fucking evil bipolar!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Yve's Corner and commented:

    Haunting images of Ward 13, a psych ward in a state hospital in South Africa.

    Blahpolar highlights the lack of resources but also shows the lengths some dedicated staff are willing to go to.

    She calls them heroes, and rightly so!


  8. Pingback: free medication time | Our Lived Experience·

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