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A psychosocial disability occurs when a mental illness becomes pervasive and disabling. According to a report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2017), the term has to do with “actual or perceived impairment”- that is that the concept deals not only with the challenges persons with these disabilities face as a consequence of having this type of disability but also the stigma that society sometimes attaches to it. Often misunderstood, it is important to raise awareness about such mental health conditions. This is the purpose of commemorative occasions such as Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month, which takes place in July 2019. For this year’s annual campaign, the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) has elected to adopt the theme “Psychosocial Disability and Identity.”

According to Booth (2000) disability in a socio-cultural context can be defined as "a barrier to participation of people with impairments or chronic illnesses arising from an interaction of the impairment or illness with discriminatory attitudes, cultures, policies or institutional practices" (Booth, 2000).

According to James (2015), “In psychology, identity is the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person (self-identity) or group (particular social category or social group).

Identity affects how kind or unkind a person is to themselves, their interactions with other members of society and their actions or inactions regarding aspects such as careers, education and relationships. Disability is something to take into consideration when a person formulates how they view themselves and their consequent behavioural patterns. In terms of how a disability may fit into these perceptions and consequent life choices, Murugami (2009) articulates that a person with a disability need not construct their identity in terms of impairment alone, but rather is capable of doing so independently of their impairment while accepting the reality of the impairment.

Disability is not something by which a person should be bound. However, it is important that a person accepts their disability. This will enable them to manage their disability appropriately. There is much that can be done to manage a psychosocial disability, including eating healthily, exercising, complying with treatments and how a person sees themselves is a determining factor in how they treat themselves. Having a disability should not be seen as an insurmountable challenge and a person should know that they are so much more than the challenges they face.

Unfortunately there exists stigma in society about psychosocial disability. Individuals with these mental health conditions are often seen as unpredictable and dangerous and are thus often excluded socially and in settings such as the workplace. Corrigan and Watson (2002) set out that there are two types of stigma- “public stigma” and “self-stigma.” The former deals with the perceptions and actions of society and the latter with how people internalise the stigma against them and internalise it. These authors cite people with psychosocial disabilities as being “doubly challenged” because they have to deal not only with a disability but also with society’s unfair treatment.

How a person identifies with their disability will determine how and if they share their diagnosis with the people around them. Rohini, Fulginiti, Brekke and Rice (2017) highlight the benefits of disclosure, citing that it promotes good mental health. Disclosure can be important in the workplace as people with psychosocial disabilities sometimes require reasonable accommodation. Disclosure to family and friends can provide a person with valuable support in times of need. Disclosure must be carefully considered, however, because many people are either misinformed or uninformed about psychosocial disability, which could have consequences such as negatively impacting on relationships. It is therefore important that the person disclosing the information have answers and information on hand to address any concerns that the recipient of the information may have.

If a person is confident in their identity in relation to their disability, they will know that there are steps that must be taken to prevent or mitigate symptoms of their mental health condition. Such individuals will make good choices with regard to diet, exercise and limiting drug, alcohol and tobacco use. According to the United Kingdom’s Mental Health Foundation, “people with severe mental health problems…on average tend to die 10 to 25 years earlier than the general population.” Someone who is receptive to their own mental health needs will know to take good care of themselves so as to keep mentally well.

McLelland (2015) defines self-advocacy as follows:

“Self-advocacy is the ability to speak-up for yourself and the things that are important to you. Self-advocacy means you are able to ask for what you need and want and tell people about your thoughts and feelings. Self-advocacy means you know your rights and responsibilities, you speak-up for your rights, and you are able to make choices and decisions that affect your life.”

Self-advocacy is very important for the purposes of identity as it speaks to how empowered a person is. For an individual to take control of their lives and to demand better treatment demonstrates that their disability is not an overriding force in their lives. That they may also be determined to forge a better path for others in the same situation shows that they are not defined by a disability but rather are empowered and in the driver’s seat.

It is especially important to raise awareness surrounding mental health on account of a new initiative that has been launched by United for Global mental Health (UGMH)., The campaign- entitled “Speak Your Mind” will target and hold governments accountable and responsible for providing access and funding for mental health. The vision of the campaign is “mental health for all.” It is a nationally driven, globally united campaign involving civil society from 15 countries- many of the members of which with mental health needs. It gives people with lived experience the megaphone and serves to bring their voices to the fore. It requests from governments that they invest, empower and educate to lead us into a future where mental health is valued.

Speak Your Mind has a South African Country Team, led by the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) in conjunction with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI). This campaign will seek to hold governments around the world accountable for their actions and inactions towards mental health care users and is intended to accelerate the rights of people with mental disabilities coming to fruition. The prescripts aims of this campaign will be drawn into our campaign for Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month. For the 2019 campaign, SAFMH will be engaging in a range of activities. These include the publication of a series of press releases, an opinion piece, infographics and the convening of a dialogue on Identity and Mental Health. It is our hope that our campaign will bring awareness to psychosocial disability and how people with these mental health conditions identify with them and the need to create a climate conducive to them identifying positively and constructively. Psychosocial disability need not be a life sentence. It’s time to #takeyourplace in ensuring that the needs of individuals who have them are met.

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

With mental health a prevalent issue among young people, it is important that they are informed about this topic. It came to the attention of SAFMH that there was very little information available to such individuals on this subject in a form that was accessible and user-friendly to them. As a response to this the organisation elected to create an online resource that young people could use to become better informed about mental health matters. The resource is a website called My-Mental Health. It is a repository of fact sheets, infographics and news items surrounding mental health, tailored specifically to the needs of young people. The resource is available at www.MY-MH.org. We urge young people to make use of this source of information and to learn as much as they can about this important issue.

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.