The 16th of June 2018 was Youth Day. This is an important commemorative occasion celebrated annually. Coincidentally, the World Federation for Mental Health's theme for Mental Health Awareness Day in October 2018 is "Youth and Mental Health in a Changing World." While this occasion is still some months away, SAFMH would like to emphasise that this is not a once-off, but rather something that should reverberate throughout the year's activities. Innovation is an important component of the changes that have taken place over the years. The internet is a veritable font of information that young people can use to their advantage. There is also the opportunity to become part of valuable networks of support. Despite this, there are also risks to using the internet for the purpose of dealing with mental health issues. Young people may end up incorrectly diagnosing themselves with mental illnesses, or may fall victim to cyberbullying. In view of this, SAFMH has drafted a press release that was disseminated to the media. It appears below:
SOUTH AFRICAN FEDERATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH
PRESS RELEASE: Youth Day 2018
The 16th of June 2018 is Youth Day. This is a commemorative occasion offering the opportunity to reflect on the past, examine the present and contemplate the future of young people in this country. Good mental health is one of the biggest determinants of overall good wellbeing among all people. Maintaining good mental health is especially important during a person’s formative years, when mental health difficulties can arise.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 10%-20% of all children and adolescents have some type of mental illness, with 50% of these disorders occurring by the age of 14 years and 75% by the age of 20. The WHO further cites neuropsychiatric conditions as the worldwide leading cause of disability in young persons, and highlights that young people so-situated face challenges with both access to rudimentary basic services such as to education and health care as well as social challenges in terms of discrimination, isolation and stigma.
Ahead of World Mental Health Day in October 2018, the World Federation for Mental Health (WHMH) has announced its theme for the occasion to be “Youth and Mental Health in a Changing World.” Although October is still some months away, SAFMH is placing emphasis on the fact that this should not just be a one-off event but rather a lasting theme that ought to resonate within activities throughout the year. The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) recognises the importance of this theme and wishes to highlight on the 16th of June how youth are presently situated- what the positive and negative aspects are of living in a modern day society and what resources are available to young people now that perhaps were absent before. In an age of innovation, the possibilities are endless. While indisputably a positive development overall, there exist dangers and risks for the youth that could serve to hinder, rather than aid their growth and development.
First of all, it is necessary to note that young people have access to a spectrum of sources of information that were not there before. There is an immense wealth of material on the internet about how youth can achieve good mental health and mental wellbeing. Youth now have a greater capacity to become informed about their mental illness or intellectual disability or those of their loved ones. While this is undeniably positive, there is a negative flipside- accessing such information can lead, for example, to self-diagnosis, a dangerous phenomenon. According to Pillay, writing for Psychology Today, self-diagnosis can lead to a person trying to treat a mental health issue themselves incorrectly, which can ultimately have many negative ramifications. They may miss a concealed disorder they simply lack the expertise to diagnose, or may mistake a physical issue for a mental health issue. This can lead to a person failing to seek proper treatment.
With the continuous flow of information has come a flow of communication. It is possible to make contact with people all over the world at the click of a button. This means that there is a network of support available to young people that never previously existed. This has the effect that if a young person feels alone, or lost, or unsure of which path to take, there are structures and communities upon which they can call for guidance. Unfortunately, for all the helping hands extended online are others which seek to cause harm. This is known as cyberbullying. According to a global online study conducted by YouGov (2015), it was found that 24% of teens in South Africa had fallen victim to cyberbullying, with South Africa having the 4th highest rate of the 11 countries surveyed. A broad spectrum of sources link cyberbullying to depression, self-harm and suicide among young people.
SAFMH is a non-governmental organisation seeking to preserve and protect the rights of people with mental illness, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability. Through ongoing advocacy and awareness activities, one of our initiatives has been to create an online resource for the youth, providing them with information on mental health. During 2017, SAFMH created a website which provides comprehensive information on various issues pertaining to young people and mental health and wellbeing. It is user friendly and comprehensive and also provides useful resources for accessing support. It is our hope that the website is of use to the youth in helping them to better understand mental health issues and how to deal with them. The address for the website is: https://my-mh.org/
According to StatsSA (2016), there are 20.1 million youth in South Africa. Given the aforesaid proportion of youth with mental health issues, it is important to take cognisance of the need to protect their mental health and wellbeing. Let Youth Day 2018 be an opportunity to take things forward; a chance to start taking care of our country’s young people’s mental wellness in a concerted fashion. #takeyourplace
Project Leader: Information and Awareness
011 781 1852
072 2577 938
Youth Day 2018
People ask why certain people get depressed but others don’t? Even if they in the same circumstances, etc.
How do we even know when someone is depressed? What are the warning signs? The symptoms?
How come certain people “recover” from their depression and others don’t? Can people even recover from a mental illness?
Are there even answers to these questions?
In my very young age, I myself didn't know the answers to these questions and neither did my parents.
Mental illness was a whole new world we never tapped into, knew nothing about nor thought of it but it arrived suddenly to my world, and oh, did it arrive with a storm. How do we deal with this, we thought. But no one was there to explain and understand.
This makes one feel extremely alone and lost, just how I felt, when depression sunk in and took over my life. This is how those with mental illness feel. But remember, we need answers to these questions…
Some sort of mental illness affects so many of our youth and yet so many of us no know nothing about it. How do we manage such a horrific illness with no information or knowledge?
Warning signs can be fatigue, sadness, numbness, loss of appetite/ overeating, lack of interest, etc, but everyone can be so different in the way they deal with their mental illness and what signs they show. This what makes detecting mental illness so difficult.
I think in our society so many of us shy away and stigmatize mental illness, especially in the youth. We often say, “Oh its just a phase in the teens or it’s just their hormones” but many of time it’s a bigger issue , one that we don't recognise nor take seriously but so many of our youth succumb to.
Schools these days are putting huge strain on our children, and a lot of the time they just not coping! We need to take notice, wake up and deal with the strain this has put on our youth.
We need to start talking about it, take notice and see how our future generation is really doing,
Talk with your children, your students, your family and get to really know them. Keep an open door policy, take what they say seriously, don’t brush off anything, take care, and don’t take them for granted, remember, 1 person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes.
Maybe if everyone took notice and opened their eyes to mental health we would have more answers to these questions. We would know how to deal with mental illness better and see the warning signs.
We could just be saving lives.
SAFMH has crafted a press release on this issue. Parliament was briefed on the topic on the 29th of May 2018. The question was whether mental health care users- previously denied the franchise by section 8 of the Electoral Act- ought to be permitted to vote in future elections. The proposed amendments to the aforementioned legislation make provision for this and, should it be passed, this stands to be a watershed moment in South African History. SAFMH's stance is that to fail to allow such individuals the right to vote is unfairly and unjustifiably limiting their rights and that the offending provisions in current law must be abolished. The big question people ask is if severely and profoundly disabled persons voting will not unduly influence the outcome of the elections. We strongly feel it will not as such individuals are highly unlikely to vote to begin with. The ability to vote bestows on one the rights to dignity, equality and freedom of expression. it is a most important entitlement and must be realised. eNCA conducted a poll to find out what public opinion is on the matter. 60% of the respondents said that such individuals should be able to vote while 40% said they should not be able to. While it is encouraging to see that the majority of people do not have a discriminatory attitude towards people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, is is alarming that such a large percentage of respondents do. Many of the remarks made by SAFMH in the press release discuss this issue. The full press release appears below:
PRESS RELEASE: MENTAL HEALTH CARE USERS AND THE RIGHT TO VOTE
On the 29th of May 2018, Parliament was briefed on possible reforms which will allow mental health patients to vote in elections. First and foremost, SAFMH would like to applaud government on the measures taken thus far to make this previously extinguished right a reality. eNCA also released a poll which posed the question as to whether “mental health patients should be allowed to vote.” The results were that 60% of voters in the poll said yes they should and 40% said no they should not be able to. We support eNCA’s decision to request the public to give their opinion and to start the conversation around this issue. It is important for pending law reform to be publicised and for the perception of the public surrounding important and controversial topics such as this to be known by decision-makers, especially leading up to the general elections. While heartening to know that more than half of respondents were in favour of the right to vote extending to people who have been denied the franchise in the past, it is concerning that such a large proportion of voters expressed that this right should be curtailed against people so situated. Public opinion is important in the law reform process because of the participatory nature of our democracy. Social stigma often puts a pin in this, however, frustrating the course thereof. While not decisive, the view of the public is very important and thus, on this basis, SAFMH has some aspects it wishes to raise surrounding the issue.
The way in which South African law already addresses this issue is as follows: the right to vote is guaranteed to all citizens over the age of 18 years of age in terms of section 19(3)(a) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (CRSA); however rights are capable of limitation in terms of section 36. This limitation in respect of people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities voting is contained within sections 8(c) and (d) of the Electoral Act, which excludes people deemed to be of “unsound mind,” the “mentally disorderly” and those held under the Mental Health Care Act. It is unclear what exactly the first two of these exclusions refer to as they are archaic terminology, but the third refers to people who have been involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Section 36 of the Constitution states that rights may be limited only if that limitation is reasonable and justifiable. It is our submission that it is not. This is because of the extent to which it limits the person’s rights to dignity, equality and freedom of expression. It is contrary to international law and does not take cognisance of the fact that people with mental illness, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability can, with reasonable accommodation, be quite adept at making decisions concerning what is best for them and those around them.
As to the international law concerned, Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) provides that the political rights of people with disabilities are guaranteed, that States Parties must bestow upon people with disabilities the right to vote, must ensure that voting procedures and facilities are “appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use,” and protect the right of the person to vote by secret ballot, but with assistance if they so choose. The UNCRPD does not make distinctions regarding the types of disabilities to which this applies. It is therefore submitted that as a state that has ratified the UNCRPD, South Africa must make these provisions for people so-situated.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH)
is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) seeking to uphold and advocate for the rights of mental health care users. We submit that the South African legal framework is currently very outdated and bourn of stigma against people with mental illness, psychosocial and intellectual disabilities. It represents perceptions that existed before Post Constitutional Democracy and does not reflect the human rights-based model for which we advocate. We call upon the public to become educated on these issues, to know what the law states and what it means and to gain an understanding of the fact that people with mental illness, psychosocial and intellectual disabilities can be extremely capable citizens. Similarly, we call upon duty-bearers to facilitate this educational process.
It is time to #takeyourplace and be freed from societal perceptions that things should stay the way they are. Mental health care users ought to be on a same footing as everyone else. They have the right to have aspirations about how this country should be taken forward, rights to offer their support to a political party. For them to be denied that represents a flagrant dereliction of their constitutional entitlements. Let’s take that 60% yes and make it 100%.
The South African Federation for Mental Health has published an opinion piece in the City Press on the right to equality for children with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities. The piece outlines this right from both an economic and social standpoint and discusses how stigma on the part of duty-bearers and the public at large contributes to failure to realise this right. It illustrates that children so-situated do not receive the services they require in order to be protected from violence, exploitation and neglect and proposes ways forward such as education deployed not only in the form of the provision of information but also through the teaching of empathy towards these vulnerable individuals.
The link is as follows #takeyourplace :
SAFMH engaged with mental health care users on mental health services in South Africa in the public sector, and gathered input to get a better understanding of the experiences of mental health care users when making use of public mental health services.
The majority (86%) of mental health care users who participated in this engagement exercise indicated that they had visited the clinic or hospital once a month on average. Furthermore, 32% indicated that they had spent between R31-R40 on transport for a return trip to the clinic or hospital, and had therefore spent an average of R420 per year on transport alone to get to the clinic or hospital. Medication stockouts had a direct impact on transport expenses in that mental health care users needed to return on average 2 to 3 times to the clinic to check whether medication was available; they therefore had to spend more than double the cost for transport per month. Considering that most mental health care users were unemployed and only received a disability grant, such a seemingly small amounts for transport are in fact significant for these mental health care users. For mental health care users who rely on the small income from a disability grant, such transport expenses can make a substantial impact on their monthly budgets for living expenses.
Most of the comments made on how mental health care services should be improved revolved around accessibility of services that are inclusive of a range of interventions, additional to consultations with psychiatrists or general practitioners or the collection of medication. Mental health care users indicated that mental health services at clinic level should include mental health and general health education, counselling (that does not limit the number of sessions with a therapist), and recovery programmes that assist the mental health care users in managing their mental health condition more effectively and where the mental health care users can set goals for themselves.
Through informal discussions with mental health care users and during Empowerment Sessions conducted in Kwazulu Natal, mental health care users often indicated that psychologists should be available at clinics to fulfil the needs of mental health care users who required counselling services in addition to just receiving medication and seeing the psychiatrist or general practitioner every few months. mental health care users also indicated that occupational therapists should also be available at clinics, who could play an important role in assisting mental health care users to achieve optimal levels of functioning, with the aim to prepare mental health care users to achieve independence and recovery as far as possible.
Participants also indicated that the system at clinics and hospitals should be improved to decrease the waiting time before being attended to. During site visits to the Northern Cape in the first year of the SAMHAM implementation plan, mental health care users noted that long waiting times at clinics were often the cause of non-compliance. mental health care users from the Northern Cape said that they became despondent just thinking of having to sit at clinics for hours, or at times, for most of the day, waiting to be attended to. They then opted not to go at all. It would be interesting to know whether the long waiting time had the same impact on treatment compliance in other provinces, as was the case in the Northern Cape.
80% of mental health care users noted that they had been treated in a friendly manner by staff when visiting their local clinic or hospital, while 64% noted that they had been treated with dignity and respect. 45% noted that they had been listened to and 45% noted that they had been given the opportunity to participate in their own treatment plans. Only 4% noted that they had been treated with no dignity or respect, while 10% indicated that they had not been given the opportunity to participate in their own treatment plans.
The high ratings of mental health care users who noted a positive experience in terms of staff attitudes (treating them in a friendly manner and with dignity and respect) when visiting the clinic or hospital was encouraging to see. It was however concerning to note that less than half (45%) of the participants said that they were listened to and had been given the opportunity to participate in their own treatment plans. Treatment and management of mental health conditions should always take the views and opinions of mental health care users into consideration when it comes to decision-making related to their treatment plans, and should allow mental health care users to be active participants. Failure or reluctance to listen to mental health care users or allowing them to have a say in their own treatment plans relates to disempowerment and taking away their voices – which is essentially in contradiction with national and international human rights instruments.
The lower ratings which indicated a negative experience in terms of staff attitudes towards mental health care users were from Limpopo (10% not being given the opportunity to participate in their own treatment plan) and from Western Cape (4% not having been treated with dignity or respect). Even though it was positive to note that incidents of negative experiences by mental health care users were low, mental health care users’ rights should be non-negotiable and there should be a no tolerance policy for any form of ill-treatment by clinic and hospital staff. Furthermore, mental health care users' rights to be involved in their own lives and medical affairs should be upheld at all times.
Saturday the 7th of April is World Health Day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set the theme for this occasion as “Universal Health Coverage: Everyone Everywhere.” States are encouraged to commemorate this occasion through the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and examine what steps need to be taken in order to achieve them. SDG 3 deals with health, specifically to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” This includes that of people with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities, the former of which having recently been recognised by the WHO as one of the non-communicable diseases. The South African Legal System contains all of the components necessary to realise this target with regards to people so situated. The right to access to healthcare is espoused in the Constitution and instruments such as the National Health Act, Mental Health Care Act, Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan and others. Unfortunately the reality on the ground is quite different with woefully inadequate basic services available to such individuals leading to poor health, relapse, hospitalisation, poor compliance with treatment, unavailability of medication, rudimentary components of care and others. This is particularly so in the case of individuals in tertiary community-based care.
Community-based care is an important part of the deinstitutionalisation model. This model was implemented to provide for recovery and reintegration of people with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities into their communities. It is a component of the human rights-based paradigm from which the sector operates. This is in line with international obligations as well as our own law. It is a departure from the previously-utilised medical model which had hospitalisation as a key focus. Hospitalisation should be a last resort as it is expensive and restrictive. This means that the emphasis should be on these community-based services. Sadly, this is not the case. Recovery cannot take place in the absence of support. Support should therefore be available in community-based settings. This is not the reality. Distressingly under resourced, those providing the services- mostly non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) - cannot ensure that those they serve receive the necessary support. The state, as the primary duty-bearer is obliged to subsidise and capacitate these organisations but does not do so adequately or sometimes at all. This violates the right of the mental health care users to access to healthcare.
The shortcomings of the present system of community-based care were recently thrust into the spotlight in the Life Esidimeni Tragedy in which some 144 mental health care users lost their lives with many remaining unaccounted for. These individuals were transferred from 4 institutions to ill-equipped NGO’s many of whom had obtained their licenses illegally due to government’s failure to follow due process in the implementation of their Project Marathon. A consequence of this was that mental health care users were left to die inhumane deaths through starvation, dehydration and preventable diseases. In this case deinstitutionalisation was fronted, but the exercise was merely a cost-cutting one with no regard paid to recovery and rehabilitation. In the hospitals where the mental health care users were previously kept, they were provided with shelter, food, water and medication where necessary. The hospitals had their faults but the people were cared for with a relative amount of dignity and certainly did not have their lives placed at risk. Provision should have been made for support to “follow” them out of the hospital and into the community and to organisations where their needs could be provided for. Instead they were cast out into cruel and brutal conditions and treated in a manner amounting to torture. Far from a mere violation of their right to health, this chain of events in fact extinguished this right as well as a host of others.
In a knee-jerk reaction to Life Esidimeni, government has Gazetted Policy Guidelines for the Licensing of Residential and/or Daycare Facilities for Persons with Mental Illness and/or Severe or Profound Intellectual Disabilities. These provide for comprehensive and stringent criteria with which an NGO must comply in order to be able to obtain a license to operate a care centre. While laudable, these criteria are simply too onerous for most NGO’s to comply with, with the effect that once these Guidelines come into force many of these organisations will not be able to obtain licenses. This will mean that they will not receive government subsidies and will likely either have to compromise standards of care or shut their doors. This too will violate the right to health of mental health care users as it will take away existing services. This is plainly regressive and unconstitutional.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) is a non-profit organisation seeking to protect and uphold the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities. We call upon the state and other stakeholders- to come together and ensure that “Universal Health Coverage: Everyone Everywhere” is achieved in South Africa. Individuals with psychosocial disabilities or intellectual disabilities are among societies most vulnerable and what is required is for issues surrounding individuals so-situated to be prioritised on an ongoing basis- not simply when a crisis arises. Good health enables people to live happy and fulfilling lives- something of which such individuals are fully capable. Do not let community-based care remain shrouded in darkness- appreciate its importance and #takeyourplace
For Inquiries contact:
SAFMH Project Leader: Information and Awareness
011 781 1852- Extension 201