STOP EXCLUSION – DARE TO CARE
All over the world, including in South Africa, there is a consensus amongst people suffering from mental illnesses that the lack of acceptance of them by their fellow citizens is the greatest disadvantage of their disorder. It is the stigma that is so often attached to mental health problems that stops people from seeking care and severely disables them within their communities.
Due to this and other such concerns expressed by the majority of mental health professionals and service users around the world, this year's annual World Health Day, which was held on the weekend, was the first ever to be dedicated to mental health. South Africa joined countries across the globe in celebrating this event, and the message offered by the World Health Organisation and the South African Department of Health – “Stop Exclusion – Dare to Care” – testified to a heartening commitment to the recognition and treatment of mental illness as well as the destigmatisation of such disorders.
Health Minister, Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang held a luncheon at Pretoria’s Union Buildings to commemorate this event. In attendance were dignitaries from various designations, numerous service users, and mental health service providers including the South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group.
The theme adopted for this day – ringing of the bells in promotion of human rights of people with mental illnesses - was taken from a historical perspective of mental health, when people with mental illnesses were chained and imprisoned. Two hundred years ago in France, the great liberator Phillipe Pinel released the patients under his care from the chains that bound them, melting down these chains and moulding them into a huge bell. He then rang the bell for mental liberation and asked the world to do the same.
This years World Health Day reiterated this message of freeing patients from the shackles that bind them today such as ignorance and stigmatisation, and bells were rung across South Africa and the rest of the world in support.
The minister said that “mental health has often been neglected because the mortality rate is relatively low compared with certain other illnesses. Also, many people have tended to put blame on people suffering from mental health problems and felt it was more an issue of character weakness than real illness requiring proper health care. However, It is not merely the number of deaths from the disease which is important, but also the disability caused by various health problems.”
Five of the leading causes of disability worldwide are psychiatric disorders. In developing countries mental health problems contribute far more burden than even diseases such as malaria, heart disease and cancer. Perhaps even more worrying though, and part of the reason why the position of mental health has been elevated, is that the projections for the year 2020 show a huge increase in the mental health burden. In terms of the DALY forecasts, unipolar major depression alone is likely to be behind only AIDS in relation to life years lost.
The minister also recognised that the numbers of people needing mental health assistance is huge. “Research here in South Africa and elsewhere shows that around 1 in 5 people presenting for general health care require mental health assistance. The truth is that mental health problems can happen to anyone. One of the problems though is that there is so much stigma and negativity associated with mental health problems, that most people will either not recognise that they have a problem or will not talk about it.”
The messages for the day were clear:
- Mental health problems can happen to anyone
- Help can be made available – (For example the Depression and Anxiety Support Group has a team of highly qualified counsellors to assist and can be contacted Monday to Friday 8am – 7pm, and Saturday 8am –5pm on (011) 783 1474/6 or (011) 884 1797)
- Don’t isolate people with mental health problems
Finally, the minister also said that she would be introducing legislation to parliament later in the year which she feels confident will reach a number of their goals, but that this should be combined by the joint efforts of all to ensure better mental health for all.
STOP EXCLUSION – DARE TO CARE