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The use of Marijuana has been a hotly contested topic for decades. Users of the substance have wanted the autonomy to take it on the basis of their right to privacy. On the 18th of September 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled on the matter, indicating that the use of Marijuana is legal within the home in South Africa and ordered that the law be amended to give effect to this ruling. While supportive of the realisation of the right to privacy, SAFMH wishes to issue a warning to users of the substance on the basis of the fact that research suggests it can have a negative effect on the mental health of a person. As such, we have released a press release on this subject. It appears below.


PRESS RELEASE: The need to ensure responsible marijuana use in view of its legalisation


On the 18th of September 2018, The Constitutional Court of the Republic of South Africa gave judgment legalising the private use of marijuana. The Court has given Parliament 24 months to correct what they deem to be defective legislation, specifically certain provisions of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 and the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act 101 of 1965. People ascribing to a specific religion, those in physical pain, as well as those who use the substance recreationally, will undoubtedly welcome the judgement. The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH), however, wishes to issue a warning to those making use of the substance as it could induce symptoms of mental illness and indeed mental illness itself.

We wish to firmly indicate that no matter your standpoint on the issue of marijuana usage, the risks associated with the use of a mood and mind-altering substance cannot be discounted. If you are a person with a mental illness, are genetically predisposed to mental illness or have experienced paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, depression or other recognisable symptoms of mood beyond the normal range, it is essential that you contact a doctor to discuss the use of this product before simply using it. While SAFMH would never discount the value of an item that can ease pain or the practice of which constitutes a religious rite, the dangers associated with the use of marijuana simply cannot be ignored. SAFMH therefore feels that it is extremely important that current and potential users take note of the risks associated with marijuana usage.

The body of knowledge surrounding this subject is considerable. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2017), for instance, describes how the use of marijuana can lead to the aforesaid symptoms, rendering a user twice as likely to develop a psychotic disorder such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. They discuss the onset of both short and long-term psychosis as a consequence of marijuana use. They illustrate that just as people can feel positive effects such as relaxation, there are also glaring negatives which can be extremely dangerous for a person both physically and mentally. The College also highlights that, should a person make use of marijuana in their younger years, there is a growing risk of developing mental illnesses later on in life.

Fichter and Moss - writing for the Psychiatric Times (2017) - noted that the use of marijuana is common among mental health care users, who have claimed that it assists them in managing their symptoms. These authors discuss how mental health care users frequently use marijuana for illnesses such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorders, insomnia and schizophrenia. While this may be the case, we reiterate that given no absolute clarity, a person with the propensity for mental illness should not make the attempt to self-medicate.

The South African Federation for Mental Health is a non-governmental organisation serving to protect and uphold the rights of people with mental illness, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability. We are bound to note with concern the fact that evidence suggests a nexus between marijuana use and mental illness. Even in the face of the opinion of some that its use may be safe and may actually improve symptoms of mental illness, we cannot escape the idea of the chance that it may have adverse effects. As an advocacy body (not a medical organisation), we cannot pronounce on the biological effects of the substance. We would however not wish for any mental health care user to leave to chance the possibility that they may make themselves unwell. We would therefore strongly advise that mental health care users, those with a genetic predisposition for mental illness and those who have experienced adverse effects of the substance to consult a doctor before commencing with or continuing with its use.

The Government of the Republic of South Africa is enjoined to protect those within its borders. While there can be no legal injunction precluding those who may be vulnerable to potential negative effects of marijuana, there ought to be research undertaken as to its effects on people so-situated and education provided to all relevant parties. One vulnerable life tarnished or lost is too many. We do not want to extinguish some rights in the name of others. We simply cannot afford to take the chance.


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


The 10th of September is World Suicide Prevention Day. This represents an important opportunity to reflect on past interventions surrounding this cause, to examine present ones and to look towards what we want to see in the future. Prolifically an area both neglected and stigmatised in our country- with no real state-implemented initiatives to curb this phenomenon- suicide needs to be taken seriously because of the damage it does- both to the person tragically committing suicide and the people left behind. While globally there has been a move to prioritise suicide, at home this is not the case. SAFMH has published a press release on the topic which appears below:


Statistics on suicide provide that:


  • Some 800 000 people, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) die on account of suicide on an annual basis. This amounts to one individual every 40 seconds.
  • Accounting for 1.4% of all deaths across the world, indicates the WHO, suicide is ranked the 18th leading cause of death.
  • Among young people, however, is the 2nd leading cause of death according to the WHO- a real cause for concern and a great pity.
  • In its analysis, the WHO also discusses the prevalence of suicide at global level and highlights that 79% of suicides took place in low and middle income countries in 2016- a fact that should be of great concern in South Africa as it falls into the latter of the two categories.
  • It highlights that for every completed suicide, there may be over 20 attempted suicides.
  • Groups particularly at risk were identified in the Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 (MHAP) and included “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, youth as well as other vulnerable groups of all ages based on context.”
  • The MHAP further highlights that in terms of suicidal ideation and self-harm that the young and the elderly are particularly at risk.
  • It discusses how “suicide rates tend to be underreported owing to weak surveillance systems, a misattribution of suicide to accidental deaths, as well as its criminalization in some countries.”
  • The New York Times (2013) reported fairly extensively on the rising suicide rates in older persons.
  • Interestingly, according to a WHO publication titled “Preventing Suicide a Global Imperative” (2014), in higher income countries 3 times the amount of men die by suicide than women but in lower and middle income countries, the ratio is 1.5:1.
  • The reason for men having a higher completion rate than women, several authors surmise, is that men utilise more lethal means than their counterparts.


The MHAP is a roadmap towards the rights of mental health care users. The plan prioritises suicide prevention and urges states to make concerted efforts to decrease its prevalence. It illustrates that there is a need for multi-sectoral collaboration to ameliorate the plight of the suicidal people and discusses reducing access to means of self-harm (for instance firearms and toxic medicines), ensuring that the media reports responsibly on issues (i.e. that suicide is not sensationalised), that concrete steps are taken to protect people at high risk of suicide (the categories identified above) as well as that mental disorders are identified early and properly managed. The MHAP sets numerous global targets in this regard, that is:


  • “80% of countries will have at least 2 functioning national, multisectoral promotion and prevention programmes in mental health (by the year 2020)”
  • “The rate of suicide in countries will be reduced by 10% (by the year 2020)”
  • “Develop and implement comprehensive national strategies for the prevention of suicide, with special attention to groups identified as at increased risk of suicide…”


“Preventing Suicide a Global Imperative” extrapolates on how to develop a national response to suicide (ie: a prevention strategy). It makes the suggestions of use of “surveillance, means restriction, media guidelines, stigma reduction and raising of public awareness as well as training for health workers, educators, police and other gatekeepers.”


In many instances, when a person is feeling suicidal, they feel isolated and as though they cannot seek help. This may be- as is all too often the case- that adequate help is not available. It may also, however, be as a result of actual or perceived stigma. Suicide is a taboo in many societies and people may be concerned that feeling suicidal is a display of weakness. In a move to implement prevention strategies there should thus also be a means through which stigma can be dispelled.


If the MHAP is anything to go by, South Africa is far, far behind in the interventions it should have implemented by this time- to the gross detriment of those who are suicidal. This represents a failure on the part of the state to take positive steps towards preventing suicide. On this basis, the South African Federation for Mental Health calls upon government to put measures in place to prevent and reduce suicide in terms of how it is guided by international obligations. This is one social ill we cannot allow to slip through our fingers. We also call on upon loved ones of those who are suicidal or have completed suicide to educate themselves about the phenomenon and to try and approach it with kindness and empathy instead of judgment. While one day of the year is not sufficient to fully explore the issues or to alter fixed mind-sets within society, it is a start. Let us all work together to prevent suicides throughout the Republic.


The South African Federation for Mental Health is a non-governmental organisation seeking to uphold and protect the rights of people with mental illness, intellectual disability and psychosocial disability. For more information and enquiries contact:


Nicole Breen

Project Leader: Information and Awareness

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

011 781 1852

072 2577 938



Advocacy involves addressing the needs and challenges of a certain group of people in society (such as persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities) through influencing policies and legislation and ensuring that their basic human rights are protected and respected, and that they have equal access to services and life opportunities through raising awareness on the plight of the group of people.

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How to Communicate Suicidal Feelings

By Kathryn Goetzke

Unfortunately, I know this subject all too well. When I was 19 years old I my dad died by suicide, and I have had an almost fatal attempt myself in my early 20s, along with very regular ideation of wanting to end my life. One thing I have learned through the years, is that if you are suicidal, it is incredibly important to reach out for help in a way that is supportive for all involved.