The 21st of March is World Down Syndrome Day. The rights of people with Down syndrome have long since been violated. Due to their intellectual disability, such individuals are seen as “second class citizens” without agency or autonomy. Underestimated and chronically disadvantaged, people with Down syndrome remain socially excluded and unable to uplift themselves. Their capacity to contribute to society is thought to be negligible and they are viewed as unable to become educated, unable to live independently and to enter into the labour market. The latter of the three is particularly concerning as it is through the right to work that entitlements such as the rights to dignity and equality can be realised.
According to Down Syndrome SA, most people with Down syndrome fall into the mild to moderate category of intellectual disability, meaning that despite the challenges they may face, they are still perfectly capable of functioning in a myriad of different work environments. This organisation also cites employment as a component greatly beneficial to the outcomes of such individuals. It is for these reasons that barriers to the right to work constitute such an extreme limitation of their fundamental and rudimentary human rights.
A hallmark of the right to dignity is a sense of self-esteem. Realisation of the right to work provides an individual with this because it creates a sense of empowerment. The social stigma surrounding Down syndrome pervades into the mind of potential employers, automatically disqualifying people so-situated from entering into the labour market at all. Thus, many people with Down syndrome simply have never had a job, resulting in low self-esteem and unhappiness, which can lead to further adverse outcomes such as depression. People with Down syndrome often find themselves caught in poverty traps. Unable to get work, there is no means of transcending these. This has a negative impact on their families and caregivers with the effect that relationships deteriorate and such individuals become isolated; their sense of esteem further diminished.
The right to be equal before the law is characterised by the absence of discrimination. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa lists grounds upon which discrimination is expressly and strictly prohibited. One of these grounds is disability. This is inclusive of environments such as the workplace. According to South African Labour Law- specifically the Employment Equity Act, Labour Relations Act and Basic Conditions of Employment Act- in employing someone and retaining them in their employ, an employer may not unduly prejudice a person on the basis that they have a disability, provided they meet the inherent requirements of the job and provided that any accommodation provided to them is reasonable in nature. This is not merely an ideal to which employers must aspire, it is a legal imperative with which they must comply.
A difficulty precluding people with Down syndrome from obtaining gainful employment is a woeful lack of education and training. Absence of requisite qualifications can automatically disqualify such individuals from securing employment. Education too is intrinsically linked to the rights to dignity and equality as enshrined the Constitution. People with Down syndrome have the capacity to develop considerable skills when educated in the right environment and this can stand them in good stead in securing employment. Should this not be provided, however, such individuals cannot become work-ready and cannot be expected to successfully function in the work environment.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) is a non-governmental organisation seeking to advocate for and uphold the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities. This year, the organisation will be raising awareness about the right of such individuals to employment. On this World Down’s Syndrome Day, SAFMH calls upon employers, prospective employers and other stakeholders to ensure that the right of people with Down syndrome to work is upheld and that proactive steps are taken to facilitate the realisation of this right. Mental Health Societies, Government Departments and other stakeholders are encouraged to educate people who, themselves, have this disability, as well as their families and caretakers, surrounding their right to employment.
People with Down syndrome have been chronically marginalised throughout the years. Constitutional Democracy exists to dispel this practice and ensure that the rights of such individuals come to fruition. Commemorative occasions such as World Down Syndrome play an important role in advocating for the rights of people so situated but one day isn’t enough to make the necessary systemic changes such individuals require. It is, however, a starting point for catalysing change and its importance, therefore, cannot be overestimated. #takeyourplace
Project Leader: Information and Awareness
011 781 1852
On the 19th of March 2018, the families of the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy each accepted an amount of R1.2 million compensation from the state. This was a product of the 2017 hearings into the matter. While the South African Federation for Mental Health welcomes the remittance of this amount, no amount of money can make true amends to those who lost their loved ones. The non-derogable right to life of the victims was needlessly extinguished and while it is no doubt a gesture of goodwill to remit the payment, material reparation cannot make up for the grief and the pain caused to the families of those who died. That the state is compensating the families of the victims has been hailed as a watershed moment- but for whom and to what extent? At this juncture we have to ask ourselves: do we accept this “better than nothing” approach or do we reflect and take a long hard look at how we got to this point and what must be done to continue to ameliorate the plight of vulnerable mental healthcare users in the future.
Life Esidemeni appeared as a shocking revelation in the media but it was long-foreseen by stakeholders in the field. Civil society, experts, professionals, mental healthcare users and their families warned the Gauteng Department of Health about what the outcome of the poorly-executed, ill-advised and poorly-planned Marathon Project would be. If the Gauteng Department of Health had heeded this warning, a great amount of anguish, lives and money could have been spared.
The biggest question in this scenario ought to be whether anything has changed for similarly-situated people. Unfortunately the outlook seems bleak. The Gauteng Department of Health continues to transfer patients to non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) with no official licensing guidelines. There is also no attempt to improve the resources allocated to fully-functional NGO’s for those patients who require community care and who cannot be accommodated by their families. In addition, there are still mental health care users who were transferred from Life Esidimeni to NGO’s who remain unaccounted for- their families remaining in a limbo situation.
There have been criticisms levied at government as to the amount spent on the hearings. We make no analysis of this. Instead, SAFMH articulates simply that had the situation never arisen in the first place, it is plain that this expenditure need never have been incurred. We submit that rather than quibble over the costs of a venue or for catering, we should instead reflect on how wasteful it is to allow a person to lose their life.
All lives matter- regardless of how severe a person’s disability might be. Everyone has the right to have their dignity respected and no decisions taken by anyone should ever lead to their marginalisation, disempowerment or deaths; especially decisions made in the name of money-saving. Mental Health Review Boards need to ensure that the rights of mental health care users are upheld and that mental health care users are represented on the Review Boards. Services to mental health care users need to be available, acceptable and properly resourced. Only then can the rights of individuals so-situated be realised.
For Enquiries Contact:
Leon de Beer
Deputy Director: South African Federation for Mental Health
Tel: 011 781 1852
Despite steps taken to ensure that the rights of women are respected and protected, there remain many hindrances to the realisation of their rights. Gender based violence, for instance, looms large in the lives of many women in South Africa. This is defined by Bloom and Shelah, 2008, as the manner used to describe violence that occurs as a result of the expectations of a role of a particular gender. This is coupled with an imbalance of power in relationships between genders in a particular society.
Gender-based violence can have all kinds of negative consequences for women, among others that it puts them at risk for developing psychosocial disabilities. Examples of such conditions include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and others. The World Health Organisation identifies gender-based violence as a risk factor for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women. It also highlights the poor identification of violence-related mental health problems on the basis that women are reluctant to disclose the fact that they are victims of violence.
The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. It represents an opportunity to celebrate the rights and freedoms of women, but also to reflect on what needs to be done to ensure the continued realisation of their rights. The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) is a human rights organisation that aims to create a society in which mental health and mental well-being receive the attention it deserves. This year, for International Women’s Day, it has elected to focus on raising awareness about gender-based violence and the need to address the plight of its victims. It calls upon duty-bearers to educate society about the Constitutional rights of women to inherent dignity, to equality and to freedom and security of the person. It urges men to respect the rights of their counterparts and women to report incidents of gender-based violence and to seek help to ward off poor mental health.
At the advent of our Constitutional Democracy it was no doubt imagined that some 20 years on we would live in a society of equality and tranquillity- free from violence and oppression. Despite this, gender-based violence remains rife in our country today. Its impact can be devastating and steps urgently need to be taken in order to rectify this inequity. Days such as International Women’s Day are considered occasions which warrant earnest activism. Instead of focusing on one day of the year, let every day be thus and let us all work together in eliminating gender-based violence.
FOR INQUIRIES INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Leon de Beer
SA Federation for Mental Health
011 781 1852
The Bill of Rights, enabling legislation and international law seek to create a conducive environment for people with disabilities. The mainstreaming of people with disabilities into the workplace is enshrined in the International Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities with the right to work contained in the International Covenant of Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. South Africa has ratified both of these treaties, the former in 2007 and the latter in 2015. South Africa’s Constitution entered into force in 1996, the Labour Relations Act in 1995 the Employment Equity Act in 1998, and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act in 2000. All of these pieces of legislation provide for employment equity, fair labour practices, non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation of people with disabilities.
Overall, as illustrated, an extremely cohesive framework exists to protect the rights of people with disabilities. This, however, is not reflective of reality. According to the 16th Commission for Employment Equity, only 1.2% of the workforce are people with disabilities in comparison with the target of 2%. This figure is unacceptably low and represents a failure on the part of duty-bearers to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace. One group that is chronically excluded from the open labour market is people with intellectual disabilities.
Exclusion of people with intellectual disabilities from the workforce violates their basic rights and entitlements- most of all their right to inherent dignity- one of the rights from which all others flow and which constitutes a non-derogable legal guarantee. A further important right violated is the right to non-discrimination- with discrimination on the basis of disability being an explicit prohibited ground set forth in the Constitution.
The month of March is Intellectual Disability Awareness month. It offers the opportunity to reflect on hopes and hindrances of people so-situated. While progress has been made to facilitate the inclusion of this demographic, there are many avenues down which South African society has yet to truly venture and the issue of employment of people with intellectual disabilities constitutes one of them. There are a spectrum of reasons as to why many otherwise-employable people with intellectual disabilities remain out of work. These include discriminatory attitudes and practises by employers, ignorance in society, lack of enabling mechanisms to promote employment opportunities and others. Work-readiness is a massive challenge with a stark lack of educational opportunities available to people with intellectual disabilities upon leaving school. Notwithstanding these difficulties- and if given the chance- people with intellectual disabilities can make an extremely positive contribution to the workplace, taking pride in their work and becoming assets to an organisation.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) is a non-governmental organisation seeking to advocate for and uphold the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities. This year, the organisation will be raising awareness about the right of people with intellectual disabilities to employment. The organisation has developed educational material- specifically a DVD divided into two sections; one for employers and one for employees. The former can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GREpziXLZoc&feature=youtu.be and the latter at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=819DHxwRCy0&t=6ss. During Intellectual Disability Awareness Month SAFMH calls upon employers, prospective employers and other stakeholders to ensure that the right of people with intellectual disabilities to decent work is upheld and that proactive steps are taken to facilitate the realisation of this right.
The construct of transformative constitutionalism denotes the improvement of socio-economic conditions in a country and catalysing substantive equality. In our democratic dispensation this extends to all people in the Republic, including and especially society’s most vulnerable. While this is certainly required to bring about positive change for people with intellectual disabilities, such people don’t always have to be seen as vulnerable- in fulfilling their roles in the workplace they can also be capable and worthy of recognition. Provide them with this chance #takeyourplace.
The Festive Season is often associated with love and joy; families spending time together, delicious food, beautiful gifts, and enjoying some time away from work. However, for many people the December Christmas period can be a lonely and depressing time. High expectations, increased financials pressure, and difficult family relationships are just some of the factors that can make the festive season a difficult time.
If you feel yourself dreading the coming Christmas period, here are some tips on how you can take care of your mental health during this time:
Don’t set up unrealistic expectations
Most of us will not experience the picture perfect holiday season that we often see on TV or in magazines, and putting financial or emotional pressure on ourselves or others to make that ideal possible just sets us up for disappointment. Instead try to focus on everything that you do have to be thankful for, like getting some time off of work, or the promise of a fresh start with the beginning of the new year.
Don’t try to do everything
During the holidays there can be a lot of pressure to do everything - plan the perfect holiday, spend time with family, meet those year-end deadlines, afford expensive gifts and food, the list goes on. If you are prone to anxiety and depression, this stress can take a significant toll on your mood. Deciding ahead of time how much money you will be spending, how much time you will spend with family, and how you will manage your year-end deadlines can help to protect you from feeling overwhelmed.
For many people, December is the busiest time of the year. When work pressures pile up and the calendar gets full with social obligations, the routines that normally keep us healthy and happy - regular exercise, healthy home-cooked meals, abstaining from alcohol - usually fall away. In addition to increased stress, eating poorly and drinking excessively can exacerbate issues like stress, anxiety and depression. Practise self-care during this time, and don’t allow a few days of holiday to jeopardise your wellbeing.
Don’t isolate yourself
Some of us don’t have family to spend the holidays with, and that can make us feel lonely and depressed. But it is important not to isolate yourself during this time. Visit with friends or colleagues, continue practising your hobbies, and spend some time in nature.
Your mental health and wellbeing come before anything else, so whether you need to distance yourself from negative family members, focus on abstaining from unhealthy food or substances, or just manage your expectations to avoid disappointment, focus on making this December period a happy and healthy one.
PRESS RELEASE: SAFMH CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO SHOW COMMITMENT TO MENTAL HEALTH CARE
Every year the 3rd of December is commemorated as International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). As part of the Disability Month activities that have been taking place over the past few weeks, Government has been drawing attention to the fact that this year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Release of the White Paper on an Integrated National Disability Strategy, and the 10th Anniversary of the Ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Although the fact that these policies have been part of the South African disability sector for many years now is indeed something to be celebrated, the SA Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) feels it is important to acknowledge all the ways that these and other policies, like the Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan (MHPF), are not being implemented, and are currently failing persons with mental disabilities as a result.
On IDPD last year, which was declared a day of mourning for those who lost their lives as a result of the Life Esidimeni tragedy, SAFMH and the South African Mental Health Advocacy Movement (SAMHAM), delivered a report regarding the state of Mental Health care in Gauteng, specifically focusing on the issues that had unfolded with Life Esidimeni, to the Gauteng Department of Social Development. The aim of the report was to show how better implementation of the MHPF was needed to improve the services and care offered to mental health care users. In the report, SAFMH made the some of the following recommendations:
Not only was there no response to the report or any of its findings or recommendations, but since then the scale of human rights abuses that mental health care users faced has was sadly highlighted in the Ombudsman’s report on Life Esidimeni, which was released two months after the SAFMH report.
Today the number of people known to have lost their lives as a result of the Life Esidimeni tragedy stands at 143, and with the arbitration hearings currently taking place, more disturbing details emerge on a daily basis of the gross neglect and abuse that the patients suffered at the hands of those who were responsible for their care. Despite the severity of these claims, those responsible for the project, such as former MEC Qedani Mahlangu, have been using every method to try an avoid testifying at the hearings.
Celebrating the existence of legislation and policies aimed at improving the lives of those living with mental and physical disabilities, while not prioritising the implementation of these legislations and policies, leads to a system that values the lives of persons with disabilities in word but not in deed.
Government has not been able to ensure that those responsible for the tragic and preventable deaths of Life Esidimeni patients face justice, nor has Government been able to ensure that the MHPF and other important legislation is implemented in a timeous and correct fashion. Until such important things start taking place, IDPD will remain a reminder of the horrific treatment and abuse that vulnerable persons with mental disabilities experienced because of Government’s lack of action.
SAFMH will continue to put pressure on provincial government departments to commit towards developing a plan to implement and monitor the allocation of resources for the successful implementation of the MHPF in all provinces. SAFMH will also be hosting the Movement for Global Mental Health Summit from 8-9 February 2018, which will provide mental health care users the opportunity to share their experiences and lead the call for improved mental health care services in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
SAFMH calls on Government to prioritise the implementation of legislation like the MHPF and the UNCRPD, and to recommit to upholding the rights of persons with mental disabilities.
Statement from the South African Mental Health Advocacy Movement (SAMHAM) on IDPD–
We as mental health care users (MHCUs) have historically been living our lives in silence while decisions have been made about our lives without our participation. Our lives have value and our views and opinions matter, and we can help to create a society where people celebrate diversity. We want to see an end to the complete disregard for our fundamental human rights - when we speak, we demand to be listened to and when decisions are being made that affects us, we demand to be involved in making those decisions. Contrary to common beliefs, we as MHCUs can add value to society and we can achieve recovery to our full potential, provided our rights are respected and protected.
FOR ENQUIRIES INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Programme Manager Information & Awareness
SA Federation for Mental Health
011 781 1852