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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.   

Prioritise self-care

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.



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: 

  • Mental health services needs to be prioritised and developed with an equal level of (high) importance across all provinces in SA, and across rural and urban areas
  • Services and resources at community level should be developed in consultation with mental health care users, their families, NGOs and other key partners to ensure that the development of such services are done in an informed and collaborative way
  • The prioritisation / resourcing / implementation / monitoring of the Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan at provincial level is essential, and provincial Departments of Health need to be held accountable for failure to do so
  • Savings generated through budget cuts in tertiary Psychiatric Care Facilities (such as what happened with the termination of the Life Esidimeni contract) need to be transferred to support community-based care
  • Government needs to address the widely pervasive shortfalls in resources needed to adequately facilitate deinstitutionalisation policy requirements
  • There is a need for NGOs to become more recognised as key partners in the delivery of mental health services and to be respected and treated as such. Government needs to recognise that without the upscaling of and provision of community-based services SA’s commitment towards deinstitutionalisation will never be realised
  • SA requires more consistent and more comprehensive subsidisation of community-based services, with adequate increases and timely payments of subsidies to ensure continuity in community-based mental health service delivery
  • There is a need for more family empowerment programmes to ensure that MHCUs who return to their homes are able to receive the support they require from their families and that family members are sufficiently equipped with the necessary skills to help them take care of mental health care users within their homes

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.



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

Programme Manager Information & Awareness

SA Federation for Mental Health

011 781 1852


The SA Federation for Mental Health this week took part in the National Investigative Hearings on Mental Health, which took place from the 14th to the 15th of November at the South African Human Rights Commission Head office in Johannesburg. SAFMH would like to commend the Human Rights Commission for organising the hearing, so that solutions can be sought for the current problems that face South Africa’s mental health sector.

On the 15th of November, SAFMH Programme Manager for Advocacy and development, Charlene Sunkel, did a presentation based on the submission SAFMH made to the Human Rights Commission on the state of mental health care in South Africa. The submission was based on challenges that mental health care users reported to SAFMH as part of our research and advocacy work throughout the provinces.

Some of the challenges include:

  1. The shortage of available psychiatric beds in hospitals across most provinces
  2. The fact that upscaling of community based services and facilities is not taking place in line with the Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan
  3. The continued problem of medication stock outs at state hospitals and clinics, which results in increased relapses and hospitalisation for mental health care users
  4. Poor resources for awareness and education involving persons with mental disabilities, and the need for more emphasis on contact based education and awareness
  5. Lack of commitment from provinces towards the resourcing and implementation of the Mental Health Policy Framework

SAFMH has also offered some suggestions as part of our submission on how the Department of Health can address these issues, and how we believe mental health care should be prioritised in future.

As a national advocacy organisation, SAFMH and the South African Mental Health Advocacy Movement (SAMHAM), is offering our expertise to the Department of Health, to try and ensure that the revamping and upscaling of the mental health care system in South Africa is done in collaboration with mental health care users and families, and done so in a manner that is person-centred and based on best-practice, complies with national policies and legislation, and is aligned with international treaties such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It is of utmost importance that mental health care users and families are involved in any process that relates to matters that affect them directly. Mental health care users and families are able to play a valuable role inproviding guidance to upscaling mental health services, as they are the users of the system and are knowledgeable about the gaps that exist and can add valuable recommendations to address the challenges.

It is our hope that meaningful discussions and changes will come from the hearing, and we look forward to the opportunity to assist in the upscaling of mental health services in South Africa.



Marthé Kotze

Programme Manager: Information & Awareness

SA Federation for Mental Health

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

011 781 1852

Office of the Premier, Radical Transformation  is proud to announce  in Disability Month 3rd November -3rd December a dedicated page within the eRecruitment portal for People with Disabilities to apply for employment within Gauteng Provincial Government. “Nothing about Us Without Us”


Every year October is commemorated as Mental Health Awareness month, and this year the SA Federation for Mental Health focused on Mental Health in the Workplace. Throughout the month there was great interest from organisations and the public, and we encourage organisations to visit our website and make use of the information available to continue supporting their staff’s mental health.

One factor that often leads to mental health problems in the workplace, or that can make existing conditions worse, is chronic stress. Stress is a normal part of life; it affects people of all ages, genders, races and circumstances, and there is no way to avoid it completely. Stress is also not always a negative thing, it can sometimes provide the motivation and focus we need to help us overcome a difficult situation or task.

But when stress becomes chronic it can have very negative effects on our physical and mental health. Chronic stress can occur when everyday stressors are ignored or poorly managed or when an individual is exposed to traumatic events. Chronic stress differs from everyday stress in that it is constant and persistent over an extended period of time. Because of this, it can be both mentally and physically debilitating. Chronic stress can lead to the development of anxiety and depression, as well as substance use disorders.

In the workplace we are often bombarded with a number stressors on a daily basis. Deadlines, a heavy workload, having to manage difficult clients or conflict between co-workers, and not getting enough time off are just some of the factors that could lead to chronic stress developing at work. While most of us cannot control the amount of stressful events taking place in our lives at any given time, there are ways that you can take care of yourself and minimise the negative effects of chronic stress.

Ways to manage chronic stress –

  • Recognize and admit that stress exists. You cannot do anything about something that you do not acknowledge is present
  • Make the time, or manage your time in such a way that you can develop and implement strategies to manage the stress. Most stress management strategies require a commitment to taking the time to practice them
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to exercise at least three times a week, make sure to get enough sleep every night, and follow a balanced and healthy diet. All of these things will have an impact on your body’s ability to handle stress
  • Don’t self - medicate. During times of stress some people may try to manage the negative emotions and symptoms they experience by using alcohol or other harmful substances as a way of “self-medicating”. Using alcohol or illegal drugs to manage the symptoms of stress can have very negative effects on your mental state, and can lead to substance abuse problems
  • Find time to do things you enjoy. Whether it is playing sports, reading a book, listening to music, or spending some time outdoors, it is important to make time to do activities that help you recharge
  • Make use of your support network. It can be tempting to isolate yourself during times of extreme stress, but make use of the support of your friends and family. Even just speaking to someone close to you when times are difficult can be helpful
  • Speak to your manager or supervisor if you need support. In the workplace people often keep quite when they are struggling, because they are afraid of being seen in a negative light. But no one will be able to assist unless they know you need help. Managers can help in practical ways like assisting in prioritising tasks, allowing for flexible working hours when necessary, or by extending deadlines when possible
  • Seek medical help if necessary. There is no shame in seeking medical assistance when experiencing anxiety, depression, or other stress related problems. A medical professional may be able to suggest treatments such as medication or therapy that could help manage your symptoms

 Bharti Patel, National Director of SAFMH, has the following message as Mental Health Awareness month draws to a close; “SAFMH is concerned about the high rate of unemployment in South Africa, and recognises that this is something that needs urgent attention and intervention. But we also need to make sure that we take care of those who are employed. Employers have a responsibility to care for their employees by providing decent working environments and supportive wellness programmes in the workplace. Over the past few weeks SAFMH has been sharing educational material which can be used by employers and employees on how to support good mental health in the workplace, and we hope that organisations will make use of these materials throughout the year, not only during awareness months.”


Marthé Kotze

Programme Manager: Information & Awareness

SA Federation for Mental Health

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

011 781 1852


on 16 October 2017

Do you want to win a one night stay for two people, including breakfast, at the beautiful Glenburn Lodge & Spa? Then head on over to the SAFMH Facebook page to find out how you can enter... Competition closes 30 October.