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October 1, 2018

Mental Health Awareness Month and World Mental Health Day

Mental Health Awareness Month is celebrated each October with World Mental Health Day on the 10th of October. These are two of the most important commemorative occasions for people with mental illness, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability as they serve to draw attention to the challenges faced by individuals so-situated and to highlight what needs to be done to give them a better future. This is a time of opportunities for human rights advocates- a time to strive for the realisation of the rights of these individuals and to hold duty-bearers accountable for issues that prevent them from accessing that to which they are entitled. To this effect, SAFMH has drafted a press release on the topic. It appears below:

October is annually celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Month, with the 10th of October being World Mental Health Day. These are two of the most important commemorative occasions for people with mental illnesses and mental disabilities and those advocating for their rights as they represent an opportunity to interrogate how such individuals are situated and to make some suggestions as to how their circumstances could be bettered.

Each year, the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) elects to support and focus on the theme chosen by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH). This year, the theme is “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.” With a clear multitude of dimensions, this subject creates space for a great deal of analysis and awareness-raising, and SAFMH has undertaken to conduct an array of activities in this regard.

In its lead-up to World Mental health Day, the World Federation for Mental Health has articulated the following:

Imagine growing up in our world today. Constantly battling the effects of human rights violations, wars and violence in the home, schools and businesses. Young people are spending most of their day on the internet – experiencing cyber crimes, cyber bullying, and playing violent video games. Suicide and substance abuse numbers have been steadily rising and LGBTQ youth are feeling alone and persecuted for being true to themselves. Young adults are at the age when serious mental illnesses can occur and yet they are taught little to nothing about mental health.

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.

The internationally and constitutionally recognised right of access to information, combined with innovation and the mushrooming World Wide Web, means that there is an immense wealth of information available to young people that was never there before. With the world quite literally at their fingertips, young people can locate just about anything that is of interest to them. This has the ability to both help and hurt: young people with mental illnesses and mental disabilities or those with friends or family members so-situated can find out how to cope with these issues, stigma on their part can be dispelled through acquisition of knowledge and they can gain the ability to self-advocate or to advocate on behalf of others. The benefits are thus undeniable. The negative flipside, however, is that for all the valuable resources out there, there is also a great deal of false information on the internet, which can lead to poor decision-making on the part of the young person, confusion, despair and can perpetuate stigma on the part of the young person. It is unfortunate that such a font of information has to contain such harmful things, but due to virtually anyone being able to propagate a stance on the internet it is unavoidable.

Another positive surrounding present times is that there are a variety of networks of support available to young people online. With the ability to reach out and to communicate the difficulties one may be experiencing, it is possible to be provided with direct positive support from friends, family, professionals as well as lay strangers who have knowledge on such matters. This can be of immense help to young people affected by mental illnesses or mental disability, who often feel isolated and alone. This too, however, has a negative converse. In as much as there may be helping hands available online, there are also those who wilfully commit harm such as in instances of cyberbullying. According to a global online study conducted by YouGov (2015), it was found that over 60% of teens found cyberbullying worse than face to face bullying and that one fifth of teens involved in the survey had been cyberbullied at some stage. A broad spectrum of sources link cyberbullying to depression, self-harm and suicide among young people.

The internet and its associated attributes and risks is by far not the only change the landscape for young people has undergone. Phenomena such as HIV and AIDS, high rates of orphaning, modern-day political instability and current economic recession all affect such individuals. Conventions and constitutions may exist for their protection, but poor implementation and troubled circumstances render the living situations of young people untenable and this is difficult to cope with. While social issues such as these maybe much talked about, it does not appear that government is taking particular steps to address these social issues in the context of mental health specifically. This is extremely problematic because without proper psychosocial support traumatic lived experience can be transformed into something annihilating.

SAFMH is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) serving to uphold and protect the rights of people with mental illnesses, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability. Our activities for the month of October include the publication of a study on the topic at hand, a policy dialogue on the subject, the filming and publication of lived experiences among young service users, a social media campaign and the publication of press releases and opinion pieces on various aspects of the topic. It is our hope that our endeavours to raise awareness on these matters will serve as a call to action on the part of duty-bearers, parents, friends and young people themselves to embrace the positive aspects of modern technology while disregarding and obviating the negatives. It is a call to protect the mental health of young people and ensure that the negative ramifications of the harmful aspects of modern times are ameliorated. We ask that government embark on awareness campaigns to highlight the importance of young people’s mental health considering the changes to our society and for other roleplayers, including young people themselves, to become educated in internet safety, the need to ensure that their activity on the internet is not harmful to young people and to become sensitised to social issues and how they affect the mental health of young people.

For more information and enquiries contact:


Nicole Breen

Project Leader: Information and Awareness

South African Federation for Mental Health

011 781 1852

072 2577 938