We have potential, says person with mental illness

Thursday, April 12, 2012
By: 
Gabi Khumalo

Pretoria - "Work beside us and respect our voices as we also have potential and talents." This was the earnest plea made by a mental health care user to society at a National Mental Health Summit on Thursday.

Dick Shingange, who suffers from psychosocial disability, said that people with mental illness are always considered as "useless". However, times have changed, thanks to technology, and they should no longer be bystanders to their personal journey and allow other people to speak on their behalf.

"We have potential and can make a great contribution to the world, we believe in Africa, where all people are treated with dignity. We want to be listened to and fully participate in decisions concerning our lives... No one can speak for us," said Shingange.

He was speaking at the two-day summit which started on Thursday and attended by mental health specialists, NGOs providing mental health services and some health MECs.

The summit is expected to deal with a range of issues in the mental health sector including:
- Mental health promotion and prevention of mental disorders
- Strengthening of mental health policies and programmes
- Child and adolescent mental health
- Suicide prevention
- Culture, mental health and indigenous mental health practices.

One of the key outcomes of the summit will be the development of a framework that will outline and provide guidelines for immediate and long-term action that must be implemented to scale up investment in mental health services for the improvement of mental health and wellbeing of all South Africans.

President of the South African Federation for Mental Health, Shona Sturgeon, noted that people with mental illness are still disadvantaged and face stigma.

"They struggle to access education and work opportunities, other challenges experienced by people with mental illness include inequity and distribution of services in the provinces, under funding of mental institutions, lack of public awareness to fight the stigma," said Sturgeon.

She commended the national Department of Health in its endeavour to address these challenges, but stressed the need for budgets to be allocated appropriately.

President of the South African Society of Psychiatrists, Dr Ian Westmore also acknowledged Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi's initiative in recognising the impact mental health has in society.

"We have 500 psychiatrists, half of them are from the private sector and we look forward to work with our colleagues in the next two days and have input," said Dr Westmore.

Motsoaledi, who addressed the summit, said the event represented a significant milestone for mental health in the country.

In this regard, they must collectively make maximum use of this opportunity and provide both evidence based inputs as well as personal experiences to ensure that the objectives of this summit are realised.

He also reported that the health sector has adopted a substance abuse health sector plan to give effect to the areas that were allocated to the health sector following last year's appointment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee by President Jacob Zuma. A summit was held and the resolutions that were adopted have been translated to a plan that was adopted by Cabinet last year.

The key elements of the plan include:
- Institutionalizing screaning and management of substance abuse at selected health programmes (trauma units, antenatal care, HIV and Aids/TB/STI clinics)
- Improving capacity and competencies of health workers to detect and manage susbstance abuse
- Improving the implementation of regulations relating to the manufacture and control a precursor chemicals used to manufacture of illicit drugs
- Scaling up public information and awareness of substances
- Introducing alcohol advertising restrictions.