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The South African National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (SANCA) Drug Awareness Week takes place from the 24th to the 30th of June. It is an opportunity to look back at the past, examine the present and look to the future in terms of how to effectively address and reduce the impact of substance use disorder.

Substance use disorder is a very serious issue in countries across the world, with approximately 275 million people aged 15-64 years of age having used drugs at least once during 2016 according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2016). This source indicates that in this year:

  • 192 million people used cannabis
  • 21 million people used ecstasy
  • 19 million people used opiates
  • 34 people used amphetamines and prescription stimulants
  • 18 million people used cocaine

Substance use and mental illness can be closely linked in what is known as a dual-diagnosis. According to SANE Australia (2019), if a person has a mental illness, they may stand a greater chance of using drugs as a form of self-medication to improve their symptoms in the short term. In other cases, illicit substances may trigger the onset of a mental health condition. Certain drugs may trigger what is known as drug-induced psychosis. If someone has a predisposition to a psychotic illness, the use of drugs may cause a first episode in an illness that can last a lifetime. Using these substances may also make symptoms of a mental health condition worse or diminish the effectiveness of treatment. On this basis, SANE advises that people with mental health conditions or those who are vulnerable to mental health conditions stay away from all kinds of illicit drugs.

So what is to be done?

First of all, education is key to ensuring that we root out substance use disorder. People who are vulnerable to this disorder and their families must take the initiative to become informed on this issue and must be vigilant about risks in and around their communities. Knowledge is power and it is only in understanding the ramifications of taking drugs that a person can make the decision to stay away from them. Advocacy and self-advocacy within communities is thus key. Also vital, and linked to the need for education, is the need to dispel and eradicate stigma around substance use. There exist beliefs in society that drug use should be punishable. This does not take into account that substance use disorder can be an illness or a product of an illness. This is a form of discrimination that can be addressed through education.

It would not be fair to place the responsibility for eradicating the use of drugs onto the shoulders of society alone. The state is the primary duty-bearer in social and health-related matters. Government must provide adequate prevention and early intervention services, as well as rehabilitation and adequate psychosocial support to those who require such services. Proper dual-diagnosis interventions must be available to those with co-occurring mental health conditions and substance use problems. It is also important to bear in mind that no state department should “own” substance use and that a multi-sectoral and multi-pronged approach is taken in ensuring that members of communities do not make use of drugs. Such a multi-pronged approach must include the provision of the all-important education to communities so as to ensure that such communities are empowered and can begin to manage the issue at home, at work and at schools.

The South African Federation for Mental Health is a non-governmental organisation striving to uphold and protect the rights of people with mental illnesses, psychosocial disabilities and intellectual disabilities. This includes difficulties surrounding substance use. Our organisation has an information desk that can direct persons in need of information and support to appropriate services. For this purpose our telephone number is 011 781 1852. SANCA is one of the organisations at the forefront of the provision of assistance to people with substance use disorders and it is highly recommended that a person so-situated contact them or be put in contact with them. For more information contact this organisation on 011 892 2829/3475, on their WhatsApp helpline at 076 535 1701, via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via their website at www.sancanational.info.

Women indeed have the capacity for greatness. Unfortunately they have been and still are a marginalised demographic of the population. This has a negative impact on their overall mental health. International Day of Action for Women's Health takes place annually on the 29th of May 2019. It is an opportunity to think about what we need to change in order to ensure that women are happy and healthy. To this effect, SAFMH has compiled a press release. Read it here:

 

The 29th of May 2019 is International Day of Action for Women’s Health. This offers an opportunity to look back on the past, examine the present and consider what kind of a future we want for the women of South Africa. In a society that has for millennia been dominated by patriarchy, women’s rights have been ignored and overlooked. From the fact that the right to vote for all women was only first exercised in 1994, to the fact that up until the advent of democracy there were no legal mechanisms providing for equality in the workplace and in other spaces women have been prolifically and systemically discriminated against. The mental health of women is no different.

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organisation (2014) as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” It is our view that everyone can attain a good state of mental health if only a conducive environment is created for them to do so. Women’s health takes on a different dimension to that of men in the sense that they are more prone to certain mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders and suicidal ideation in adolescence and depression, anxiety as well as serious bipolar depression as adults than their male counterparts (World Health Organisation 2002).

Traumatic events in a person’s life can trigger or exacerbate a mental health condition. Rape leads to post-traumatic stress disorder, for example (Kilpatrick no date) - something which can become a life-long condition if not adequately treated and managed. Unfortunately, as a country with a culture of violence, particularly against society’s most vulnerable and a lack of psychosocial support, women often fall victim not only to these criminal activities but to the poor mental health that ensues as a result.

This week is National Child Protection Week 2019. During this time we must seek to protect the girl child who often falls victim to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. According South African Police Service’s 2017/2018 Crime Statistics (2018) 294 girl children were reported to have been murdered in South Africa, which is wholly unacceptable. Section 28(2) of the Constitution indicates that the best interests of the child are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child but can this really reflect the values of society when statistics like this exist?

So what is to be done?

First of all, all of society must become educated as to what women are entitled to under our law. Equality is a conrnerstone of our constitutional democracy and the entire body of enabling legislation echoes this. The public must acquire an understanding of the law so as to diminish perceptions that women are not equal to their male counterparts and treat women with dignity and equality in all of their interactions with them.

Second of all, South Africa must properly implement the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women through adequate policy and legislation. Action plans must be developed in terms of how to combat discrimination in the workplace and in other spaces. This will improve the overall mental health of women.

While women need not be treated with kid gloves, history has rendered them vulnerable to abuse, detracting from them being able to live to their fullest potential. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness which are a catalyst for the mental health conditions set out above. Let us root out discriminatory practices and let women live happy and fulfilling lives. It’s time to #takeyourplace in promoting women’s mental health, starting from now.

Contact Details

Nicole Breen

Project Leader: Information and Awareness

South African Federation for Mental Health

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

011 781 1852

072 2577 938

 

Children are among society's most vulnerable members. As such it is extremely important that their rights are respected and protected- particularly those who have disabilities. Unfortunately this is all too often not the case. National Child Protection Week- held in 2019 from the 28th of May to the 4th of June- offers an opportunity to reflect on how children are treated and how we can better this. To this effect, SAFMH has compiled a press release on the subject. Read it here:

The 28th of May to the 4th of June is Child Protection Week 2019. According to UNICEF (2006), child protection is comprised of “preventing and responding to violence, neglect and exploitation against children.” Children are perhaps the most vulnerable demographic of the population. When this vulnerability is compounded by a child having a disability, extra care must be taken to protect the young individual.

Unfortunately, we fail our children in many respects. According to the World Health Organisation (2012), children with disabilities are nearly 4 times more likely to be abused than their non-disabled counterparts. This is a shocking statistic and unacceptable in a world where international instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are almost universally ratified.

With regard to child protection, South Africa does not fare too well. A shocking revelation in this regard came from the 2015 Optimus Study, which revealed that one in three people experience violence in childhood, but reporting rates are far lower, with a mere 41 000 cases being reported to the authorities in 2015. One in five children report that they have been hit, kicked or beaten by an adult person and South Africa’s rate of child murder is double the global average. An analysis of the National Crime Statistics  in 2014/15 indicated that over a third of families feel it is not safe to go to parks or other open spaces alone and 69% of people indicated that they feel unsafe walking around when it is dark, suggesting that people perceive South Africa to be an unsafe place to raise children.

What is most disappointing is that abuse of children comes in the face of a comprehensive legal framework. The Children’s Act creates a comprehensive child protection system- something that is only set to be enhanced by the upcoming Third Amendment to the Children’s Act. The Children’s Act provides for protective mechanisms for all children- mechanisms that are mandated to be tailored to the needs of a particular child, and any disability that child may have. Why then are South Africa’s children mired in abuse, neglect and degradation?

Child abuse can catalyse a range of mental health issues. According to Springer, Sheridan, Quo and Carnes (2003), “childhood abuse is positively related to adult depression, aggression, hostility, anger, fear, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.” This comes in the face of the fact that young people are, already, in a precarious position when it comes to mental health. According to United for Global Mental Health worldwide 10%-20% of children and adolescents experience mental health disorders. Half of mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s.

So what is to be done?

First of all it is necessary to create a child rights culture in South Africa. It must be impressed on society that children must be treated with dignity and respect. Society must be willing to learn about and understand the rights of the child and to make concerted efforts to improve how it nurtures the younger generation and ensures that it fosters positive conditions for growth and development. Secondly, Government must take positive and concrete steps to improve service delivery to children- safety, security, rapid response to imminent dangers to children, rapid response to crimes committed against children, the implementation of law and the provision of the aforesaid all-important education to the public. We make these calls with a view to ensure that the children of our country can grow up happy and healthy, living and maturing in a good state of mental health.

SAFMH is a non-governmental organisation seeking to uphold and protect the rights of people with mental illness, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability. We wish to impress upon both society and its Government the need to ensure that children are protected and that they do not suffer abuse. A loving and nurturing environment is integral for children to learn to cope with every day pressures and stressors of life and to have successful school lives, home lives and work lives later on. It’s time to #takeyourplace in ensuring that our children are safe. STOP child abuse. Today.

Contact Details

Nicole Breen

Project Leader: Information and Awareness

South African Federation for Mental Health

011 781 1852

072 2577 938

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The 26th of May is Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day. This offers an opportunity to look back at the past, examine the present and envisage the future we want for those affected by this mental health condition. To this effect SAFMH has composed a press release on the issue. Read it below:

 According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Bipolar Disorder is a prevalent mental health condition, affecting 60 million people worldwide. Harddon, Hayes, Blackburn et al (2013) cite it as a serious mental illness. However, this is not to say that people with this mental health condition cannot lead happy and fulfilling lives.

According to the WHO (2014), mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” As the South African Federation for Mental health (SAFMH), we believe that everyone can live life in a good state of mental health, if only a conducive climate is created for them to do so. Bipolar Disorder need not be a life sentence. For 2019’s Bipolar Awareness Day on the 26th of May, this is what we aim to illustrate.

Bipolar Awareness Day is an opportunity to look back at the past, examine the present and consider what kind of future we want for people with this mental health condition. Such individuals have been prolifically discriminated against and relegated to a class of the incapable and infirm, their talents and capabilities chronically overlooked. The stigma surrounding this condition has led to poor rates of employment, institutionalisation and poor measures to accommodate such individuals in learning environments.

In reality, this is wholly unnecessary and places undue limitations on the exercise of the rights of individuals so-situated. This is not only a moral affront but is entirely unconstitutional- something society rarely thinks of in the way they treat such individuals.

Sifiso Mkhasibe, a Project Leader at SAFMH, refers to himself as a “survivor of Bipolar Disorder.” Mkhasibe struggled with the disorder for years- at times hospitalised and isolated- until he was provided with the right treatment regimen and proper assistance. Today he is confident and successful, having taken control of his life: 

“Days, weeks, months went by, until I realised enough is enough. I had to take ownership of Bipolar Mood Disorder. I educated myself about the symptoms I had experienced when I was diagnosed…once I had learned how to manage my Bipolar Mood Disorder, life started to become clearer, I knew what I had to do and how to do it. I was no longer a victim of my Bipolar Mood Disorder. I stopped defining myself as a person with Bipolar Mood Disorder, now I just say I had those symptoms when I was diagnosed. I am on medical treatment and I do not present those symptoms any longer.”

There are different support structures that, if put in place and available to those needing it, can aid in the recovery of people with Bipolar Disorder. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) (no date) treatment can take the form of the provision of medication, psychotherapy, family support groups or periodic hospitalisation as a last resort. Authors like Mkize (2003) highlight that assistance from traditional healers is also one of the options available to people with mental illness. A further mechanism which can be used to support such individuals is reasonable accommodation in the workplace, as contained in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997. There are thus many mechanisms that can be employed to enable people with Bipolar Disorder to have a good quality of life.

Unfortunately, state structures frequently fail those with this mental health condition. An example of this is the inadequate number of trained professionals to care for such individuals                                                and lack of information concerning lay counsellors who render services to people with mental health conditions. According to the WHO’s Mental Health Atlas (2019), South Africa has only 1.52 psychiatrists per 100 000 people. The same document indicates that there are only 16.56 beds available in psychiatric hospitals per 100 000 people. There is no evidence surrounding how many support groups there are. In addition, only R99.47 is budgeted per person for mental health services on an annual basis. What is perhaps the most problematic of all is the fact that, in many instances, there is simply no data available on the state of mental health in South Africa, with the Atlas indicating in many places that there is no information or that no information has been reported on various items such as community-based organisations (which the United Nations (2018) has acknowledged as something that needs to be developed and recognised) or length of stay in inpatient facilities. Another example of how the state is not supporting mental health adequately is the failure to employ adequate numbers of people with disabilities (this includes people with mental health conditions), - let alone take steps to reasonably accommodate them. According to the Commission for Employment Equity Annual Report (2017/2018), only 1.3% of the workforce were people with disabilities, in comparison with the employment equity target for employment of such individuals which is 2%.

SAFMH is a non-governmental organisation seeking to protect and uphold the rights of people with mental health conditions. We wish to issue calls to action first to society and then to government:

We urge members of the public, friends and families of people with Bipolar Disorder and people with the disorder themselves to become educated about this mental health condition so that the stigma surrounding it can be diminished. This will enable people with the condition to live in their communities, to work and to obtain an education.

We call upon the state as the primary duty-bearer to take steps to realise the rights of people with Bipolar Disorder and to ensure that basic services improve. The state must also take steps to provide human rights education to the public.

Bipolar Disorder can be disabling, but it need not be the governing force in a person’s life. With proper intervention and care, people with this mental health condition can flourish and thrive, if only they are given the chance to do so. It’s time to #takeyourplace in ensuring the needs of people with Bipolar Disorder are met.

ENDS

Contact Details

Nicole Breen

Project Leader: Information and Awareness

South African Federation for Mental Health

011 781 1852

072 2577 938

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The South African Federation for Mental Health attended the presidential inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa. Thousands of South Africans filled Loftus Stadium on Saturday 25th May 2019. The festivities ranged from cultural performances by the Tshwane Gospel Choir and the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) marching band. The atmosphere throughout the day was that of excitement as many gathered to witness this momentous occasion.