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The South African Federation for Mental Health would like to express our utter dismay at the report that 36 psychiatric patients transferred from the Life Healthcare Esidimeni facilities earlier this year have died while in the care of NGOs. This information, which was disclosed yesterday by the Gauteng Health MEC in an oral reply to questions by DA Shadow Health MEC Jack Bloom, show the level of mistreatment of mental health care users in Gauteng.

The psychiatric patients were relocated to 122 NGOs after the department cancelled its contract with Life Healthcare which looked after almost 2000 patients. At the time of the cancellation of the contract, the Gauteng Department of Health claimed that terminating the contract was part of the process of deinstitutionalisation, and that the money saved from the contract would go towards upscaling other mental health services, all of which it claimed was in line with the National Mental health Policy Framework. It is now clear however that the Gauteng Department of Health has disregarded its commitment to the National Mental Health Policy Framework, as the primary goal of the policy is to ensure that mental health care users are able to live with dignity and receive quality health care services. 

Throughout the process of the closure of the Life Esidimeni facilities, and the relocation of the patients, SAFMH and other partners have been vocal in our concerns regarding how the process has been handled, as patients, their families and community NGOs were not properly consulted, and it was clear from the beginning that was a serious shortage of NGOs with proper facilities and resources to give the Life Esidimeni patients the high levels of care that they require. However the Department ignored all of these concerns, and it is now becoming clear what a high price mental health care users are paying for this.

SAFMH believes that the Department should immediately employ measures to prevent further deaths, at any costs, as well as immediately starting a process of intensive upscaling for NGOs, as it is clear that not providing NGOs with enough support and resources have led to an unacceptable amount of casualties. A thorough investigation is also needed to determine the exact cause of death of all 36 mental health care users. Government needs to show its commitment to implementing the Mental Health Policy Framework by ensuring that something like this never happens again, and by providing mental health care users in Gauteng as well as the rest of South Africa with the services and care that are their legal right. 



Marthé Viljoen

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



Press release: 10 September World Suicide Prevention Day

How to assist someone who is suicidal


When someone suffers a physical injury, such as breaking a leg or accidentally cutting themselves on a sharp object, they are typically treated with sympathy and receive first aid treatment as quickly as possible until they are able to receive professional medical care. However, when someone experiences a mental health problem or crises, such as a panic attack or feeling suicidal, they are often stigmatised and their problem treated as a personal weakness instead of a serious health concern.

Suicide is a topic that is still surrounded by much stigma, despite the fact that the World Health Organisation estimates that over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Knowing what to do to assist someone who is suicidal or who you suspect may be thinking of taking their own life is an important skill that everyone should have. This is where mental health first aid comes in.

Mental health first aid is the help offered to a person developing a mental health problem, experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health problem or in a mental health crisis. The first aid is given until appropriate professional help is received or until the crisis resolves.


The aims of mental health first aid are to:

1. Preserve life where a person may be at risk of harm

2. Provide help to prevent the mental health problem from becoming more serious

3. Promote recovery of good mental health

4. Provide comfort to a person with a mental health problem

Mental health first aid will typically be offered by someone who is not a mental health professional, but rather by someone in the person’s social network (such as family, friend or work colleague) or by someone who may come into contact with potentially vulnerable individuals on a daily basis, such as a teacher, police officer, or social worker.

On World Suicide Prevention Day, SAFMH would like to encourage people to make use of mental health first aid to help anyone they know or encounter who may be feeling suicidal. It is important to understand that most people who are suicidal do not want to die, they simply want the pain that they are feeling to end. Helping them to openly talk about their suicidal thoughts and feelings may help to save a life. Do not underestimate your ability to help someone who is feeling suicidal.


Mental Health First Aid Steps to help someone who you believe is suicidal:

·         Prepare yourself to approach the person and talk about your concerns.

Be aware of your own attitudes surrounding suicide and mental health problems. If the person you are talking to senses that you are judging them or their behaviour they are less likely to open up to you. Remember that your own personal feelings about suicide, whether informed by your religious or cultural beliefs, are less important than providing assistance to a person in need.


·         Ask about thoughts of suicide.

Anyone could be experiencing thoughts of suicide, and the only way to know for sure is to ask them directly. Often people are scared to talk about suicidal thoughts openly, because they fear that this will put ideas into a person’s head. But this is not true. Someone who is not suicidal will not suddenly become so because you ask them about it, and someone who is suicidal will probably appreciate the opportunity to talk with someone who cares about them. When talking to the person you could ask, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” But do not word the question in a way that is judgmental, for example, “You are not thinking of doing something stupid are you?”


·         Be supportive and understanding.

It is more important to make sure the person knows that you care and that you want to help them, than to worry about saying the “right” things. Give the person your undivided attention and make sure they understand that they are cared for and that there are people who want to help them with whatever difficulties they are facing. Do not dismiss the person’s feelings or their reasons for wanting to die, even if you do not understand them yourself. Acknowledge the courage that it takes for the person to speak honestly about these things.


·         Establish whether the person is in immediate danger. 

A person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts may have vague feelings that their life is not worth living, or they may be actively planning to take their own life. It is important to determine whether the person you are talking to is likely to harm themselves and whether they are in any immediate danger. Ask the person questions such as whether they have a plan for suicide, whether they have attempted suicide before in the past, or whether they have been using drugs or alcohol, as substance intoxication may increase a person’s likelihood of acting on suicidal thoughts.


·         If a suicide risk is present, keep the person safe.

If you establish that a person is in danger of talking their own life, you should take steps to help keep them safe. The most important aspect of this is not to leave them on their own. If they have friends or family that you feel should be informed or can provide assistance, contact them. If you are unsure how to respond in such a situation you can also call 24 hour helplines, such as the SADAG suicide line or the Lifeline crises line, where someone will assist you.


·         Encourage the person to get professional help.

This is the most important step. Despite the fact that people can provide assistance by implementing mental health first aid or by supporting someone who is suicidal, ultimately those steps are not a substitute for seeking professional medical help. Whether the person is in immediate danger of taking their life or not, they should always be encouraged to seek professional help. Provide the person with information on emergency numbers and suicide helplines for them to make use of if necessary. Also encourage them to find someone to talk to, such as a counselor, psychologist or doctor. Most suicidal people do not simply recover on their own, especially not when they have other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse. It is important that they understand that there are people equipped to help them, and that it is possible for them to recover.  


SADAG 24 Hour Suicide Crisis Line

0800 567 567

SMS 31393


Lifeline 24 Hour National Counselling Line 

0861 322 322



Marthé Viljoen

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


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Semi Colon Jewellery

on 29 August 2016

Janine Binneman Jewellery (JBJD) has partnered with the South African Federation for Mental Health and will be donating 10% of each semi colon jewellery piece sold to SAFMH.

The semi colon project was created to raise awareness for people struggling with depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. The semi-colon is a symbol of hope and perseverance worldwide as it is representative of when an author decides to use a semi-colon to continue a sentence rather than end it. JBJD has taken this concept to new heights with her beautiful range of semi-colon necklaces and rings that can be worn daily so that one can constantly be reminded to persevere and push through, even when times are tough.

Janine Binneman is renowned for producing exciting and meaningful jewellery that touches the hearts of her clients. She believes that mental health is just as important as physical health since one’s mind and body are inseparable and hopes that more and more people will lean on family and friends for support when struggling and make use of the help available to them.

Her semi-colon range is extremely close to her heart and was developed to raise awareness for those fighting these battles daily. This range is a powerful reminder that we all have the power to continue our stories. 

Sterling silver semi-colon rings: R380 each, made to order

Sterling silver semi-colon necklaces: R550 each, made to order

Twitter: @JanineJewellery

Instagram: @janinebinnemanjewellerydesign




We pay tribute to our beloved colleague Elna Welman

 Our dear colleague, Elna Welman (Director of Pietermaritzburg Mental Health Society), passed away unexpectedly after a short illness on Thursday, 11 August 2016.  

Elna was well-loved and admired for her enduring commitment to persons with disabilities; she will always be remembered for her courageous and warm heart and especially her passion to help and support those in need of care. 

We are all united in our grief and our memories of her incredible spirit.