The challenges that South Africans face every day have a serious impact on our people’s mental health. Prevailing living conditions and social drivers for the vast majority of our people, such as high levels of violence, poverty, unemployment, and inequality, combine to drive mental health disorders such as psychological distress, inability to concentrate, depression, anxiety, suicide, hopelessness, and feelings of worthlessness.
This makes it difficult to build social cohesion, foster civic-minded action, and encourage the emergence of a united citizenry, committed to community and national upliftment – in short, mental health affects the potential of our country.
According to the World Health Organisation’s 2022 World Mental Health Report, there were 970 million people living with mental disorders globally in 2019, including 14% of the world’s adolescents. Suicide accounted for more than one in 100 deaths; 58% of suicides occurred before the age of 50 and is the fourth-highest cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds.
10 October is World Mental Health Day – and October is United Nations Mental Health Awareness Month – and presents an opportunity for people and communities to unite behind the 2023 theme ‘Mental health is a universal human right’ to improve knowledge, raise awareness and drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right.
Mental health services in South Africa are inadequate in both the public and private sectors – it’s estimated that only 27% are receiving treatment. Only a small proportion of the country’s health budget is dedicated to mental health, with most of that available funding allocated to psychiatric hospitals, leaving very little for community-based services.
The NGO sector in South Africa therefore plays a huge role in on-the-ground awareness of mental health challenges – as well as their management. MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet supporters are able to select from a number of organizations in the space as beneficiaries from every swipe of their card at a retail partner.
Setting People up for Success
Bendigo House – named for the Spanish word meaning ‘bless’ – offers long-term accommodation with person-centered adaptive care to neurodiverse adults. It is a home away from home where residents can work on reaching their potential in spite of the challenges they face, with the support of professional staff. Entirely reliant on private funding, Bendiga House is managed by an in-house Social Worker (registered with SACSSP) – Ronel Schoeman – and the facility is licensed with the Department of Health and Wellness. When asked what the biggest challenge in the mental health field is, Schoeman says it’s impossible to measure success in the mental health field. “We are just trying to help as many people as possible. But I would say our biggest challenge is to create more tolerance and an understanding in society for what our clients experience. In general, people think the person suffering from a mental health issue can do something about it and can control it, which is not the case. They do not choose this. And they cannot control it,” she says. “Often when people move in with us, they feel rejected by society and they feel like a burden to their families. We have to work very hard to build their self-esteem and for them to feel respected and valued; therefore we aim to provide the highest level of care, which is a huge financial challenge.”
Schoeman says that it is very expensive to maintain a high level of care, which most families cannot afford. “We aim to provide nutritious, healthy meals with the best and freshest ingredients possible, but it is a daily financial struggle. We have a generous donor base – including MySchool supporters who nominate us as their chosen beneficiary and help support us with each swipe,” she says. “We also need employers to come on board to offer employment to neurodivergent adults in a nurturing, safe environment. If they are able to earn an income, it would relieve the financial burden on families and improve their self-esteem.”
Advocating for Sufferers
The South African Federation for Mental Health is a mental health-focused, human rights organisation with a 100-year track record of service delivery to South Africans from all walks of life. Since its humble beginnings, SAFMH has played an important role as an advocacy body, promoting community mental health care and de-institutionalization and fighting for the rights of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.
Today, SAFMH is the largest national mental health federation in South Africa, with the national office situated in Johannesburg, and 17 constituent bodies located in all nine provinces.
While SAFMH works at a strategic level with government and other national and international mental health stakeholders and partners to raise awareness of mental health and human rights and to advocate for improved resourcing of mental health, the Mental Health Societies are independent, community-based mental health organizations who deliver essential front-line mental health services to communities that are often under-resourced.
“Mental health really came into focus during COVID-19 lockdowns as people faced immense challenges in their lives – but, like COVID, the challenges didn’t simply disappear when lockdowns were lifted,” says MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet General Manager Pieter Twine. “Millions of people continue to suffer from mental health challenges and it’s essential to continue to help fund organizations working in the space to both raise awareness – so many people can recognize that they need help – and provide support in an underfunded field.”