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Tadding mental illness with love and special care

Melding mental illness with love and special care Families and communities battle scourge that costs afflicted South Africans billions of rands CLAIRE KEETON "WALK away! Get on with your life. Stop wasting your money." That's the advice Karen Robson got from a psychiatrist while caring for her daughter, who had developed bipolar disorder at the age of 15 after a carefree childhood. Karen did not follow the psychiatrist's counsel. "If I had, I can guarantee that my daughter, who also developed borderline personality and posttraumatic stress disorder, would be dead," she said. In a separate case, financial professional Julian Turner and his wife of some 30 years are closer now than ever after he swallowdived off a 150m cliff at sunset in a suicide attempt. But many families find it hard to support those they love when they have a mental health disorder or have attempted suicide. Common responses include disbelief, denial and rejection. Robson's daughter is thriving in Families and communities are struggling to cope with mental health conditions a residential facility. She was speaking at a Discovery Health and SA Depression and Anxiety Group Sadag conference in Johannesburg this week, where psychiatrists and people with mental health conditions shared their experiences. Discovery Health CEO Jonathan Broomberg said spending on mental health was one of its fastestgrowing areas, reaching R2billion last year. Roughly a third of people with mental health conditions also have chronic conditions and their medical costs typically shoot up. "Families and communities are struggling to cope," Broomberg said, reporting that apps were now available to help manage conditions like stress. Community psychiatrist Dr Lesley Robertson said she wanted to see more psychiatric beds in general hospitals to improve access to care and reduce stigma. Historically South Africa had too few inpatient mental health facilities but these have increased from 129 to 141. Popular radio and TV presenter Penny Lebyane was shocked when she needed treatment for postnatal depression soon after her son was born. "I'm a hyperactive Atype personality and I had everything organised. But my world crumbled HOLDING HER OWN: 'Sunrise' presenter Penny Lebyane DRINKS WATER: Sam Cowen kicked the bottle for sanity when I had a breakdown and had to be admitted for treatment. My biggest fear was the media backlash," said Lebyane who has become an outspoken crusader against stigma. Parents and spouses often don't know whether, or how, to intervene when the mental health of people close to them begins to deteriorate. International speaker Professor Gabriel Ivbijaro, president of the World Federation for Mental Health, said: "Families are often the first to notice a change or breakdown and they are really important to recovery." He said loved ones with mental health conditions sometimes became outcasts when what they really needed was "hope, shelter and dignity". Turner told his wife, about a month before he leapt off a cliff at Kloof Gorge outside Durban, that he would have "to take myself out" if he got retrenched, because he was a white man over 50. He never was retrenched. She reacted in shocked silence. He said: "There is nothing she could have said for me then." These days he counsels colleagues battling depression in his free time at the financial company where he continues to work. He said: "There is help out there, but it takes a crisis for someone to seek help. I encourage people to get help before the crisis." Another successful radio and TV presenter, Sam Cowen, said her husband had tried everything to help her stop abusing alcohol: being supportive, shouting at her, and threatening to leave her. But ultimately only she could decide to stop and it is now more than 15 years since she has touched alcohol. There is help out there, but it takes a crisis for someone to seek help Cowen said her daughter had prompted her to write her book From Whisky to Water sooner than planned when she overheard her telling a friend that her mother used to drink "tons". She told the summit how she drank to calm her lifelong problem with anxiety and fix her sensory integration disorder. Now she swims marathon distances for her wellbeing. "I hate the fact that I panic and that I throw up when I'm afraid. It's not sexy. But I am not embarrassed about it," she said. Cowen said she saw parents who did not want to acknowledge that their children had mental health conditions, who felt scared and wanted to protect them, but were unable to reach out for support. Soweto psychiatrist Dr Mvuyiso Talatala, past president of the South African Society of Psychiatrists, said it was often difficult for parents to gain access to mental healthcare, particularly since the public health sector was underfunded and underresourced. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. For help call Sadag on 0800 205056 or visit Sadag.org.za Comment on this: write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or SMS us at 33971 www.sundaytimes.co.za