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June 29, 2018

What is Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month?

The month of July is Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month. A psychosocial disability is when a mental illness becomes pervasive and interferes in a person's functioning, thus preventing them from being able to claim their rights or to participate in society. People with psychosocial disabilities face a number of challenges including poor access to basic services and exclusion. For the awareness month, SAFMH has elected to launch a campaign called "Blockades in an Era of Continuum." We are doing so because although the legal and policy framework exists to provide a cohesive basket of services to people so-situated, this is not reflective of reality. To this effect, we have compiled a press release. Read it here:




The month of July is annually celebrated as Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month. This month, as with any commemorative occasion, is an opportunity to reflect on the past, examine the present and look forward, deciding what we want to see for the people concerned.


According to a report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, an individual with a psychosocial disability is described as “a person…who, regardless of self-identification of diagnosis of a mental health condition, face[s] restrictions in the exercise of their rights and barriers to participation on the basis of an actual or perceived impairment.” This description discusses pervasiveness and poor access to the services to which those affected are entitled. It explicitly states that such individuals lack agency within society and that they are rendered voiceless- forced to accept the treatment meted out to them. It includes “perceived impairment”, which refers to disenfranchisement due to stigma and oppression, regardless of the capacities of the person. This should not be the reality of people so-situated- in fact, South Africa has a comprehensive legal framework set up to preclude such exclusion and entrapment. The reality, however, is starkly different, with law and policy seemingly viewed as an ideal as opposed to an imperative. This has the effect that people with psychosocial disabilities continue to languish, left in peril.


People with psychosocial disabilities- whether in hospitals, community-based settings or with their families- require a certain standard of care and a basket of services available to them. What they require in order to recover must necessarily be provided to them in accordance with the prescripts of the Constitution. Despite this imperative, lack of prioritisation means that no heed is paid to the fact that the system needs to flow smoothly, allowing the mental health care user to move from one part of it to another. There is no consistency in terms of that which is provided and no semblance of utilisation of a model designed to facilitate recovery.


The theme the South African Federation for Mental Health has elected to pursue for our 2018 Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month Campaign is “Blockades in an Era of Continuum”- this theme was selected because of the bottlenecks faced by people with psychosocial disabilities in accessing that which government is enjoined to provide. The campaign will aim to start the conversation around the extant challenges in South Africa today, contrasted with how law and policy ought to be implemented. It will have a focus on the challenges in the full complement of services- from hospital care, to community-based care, to family care. It will deal with the construct of stigma within the community as well as among duty-bearers, the lack of clarity surrounding the roles of those responsible for caring for people with psychosocial disabilities, and the challenges in integrating people with psychosocial disabilities into the community. Finally, it will discuss what the expectations of an ideal mental healthcare system are.


SAFMH is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which advocates for and raises awareness about the rights of mental healthcare users. We are constituted by 17 mental health societies which provide direct services to persons including those with psychosocial disabilities. We call upon the state to prioritise matters concerning mental health and to ensure that the system can work on a continuum such that patients can remain stable and recover. We urge the state to embark on a proper and considered process of deinstitutionalisation absent of irregularities and to adopt the recovery model for people with psychosocial disabilities and other mental health concerns. In addition, we urge the state to provide education and training to people with psychosocial disabilities and the general public so that they will understand the rights to dignity, equality, freedom and security of the person, access to healthcare, access to food and water and other associated rights as they relate to people so-situated.


People with psychosocial disabilities are prolifically vulnerable and near-universally neglected. The need to remove these blockades is desperately urgent. Psychosocial Disability Month may not be a panacea for this social ill, but it is an opportunity to raise awareness about these issues. It is time for the system to #takeitsplace and provide adequately for people with these illnesses.




Nicole Breen

Project Leader: Information and Awareness

South African Federation for Mental Health

011 781 1852

072 2577 938