ZANE WILSON GIVEN RECOGNITION FOR HER WORK IN
Zane Wilson, founder and chairman of the National Depression and Anxiety Support Group, has been awarded the prestigious title of “SA Woman of ‘98” in the Health Category. The awards ceremony, sponsored by Shoprite Checkers and SABC 3, is held every year to coincide with National Women’s Day to pay tribute to women who have achieved success in their respective fields.
The winner of the health category has to embody a rare combination of characteristics. On a personal level, she should have overcome obstacles with tenacity, creativity and drive, as well as being driven by a broader vision of equality for women and a greater role for them in society and in their communities. On an interpersonal level she needs to be an articulate, capable leader who has influenced others to join her in her efforts to make a difference. Finally, on a practical level, she needs to have made a tangible difference in the health field and her work has to be of particular relevance to the socio-economic conditions of South Africa.
Ms. Wilson’s successful creation and expansion of the Depression and Anxiety Support Group (DASG) is indicative of her personal strength and ability to conquer the odds. Ms. Wilson developed the group after she was diagnosed with panic disorder. Formerly a successful business woman, she transferred her skills into the mental health sector and developed the group into a nationwide organisation offering counseling, information and referrals to thousands of sufferers countrywide.
The well co-ordinated and active DASG focuses primarily on empowering the individual sufferer through education and support. Ms. Wilson has been instrumental in the creation of over 150 regional support groups, which are run by ex-sufferers and pursue effective self-help programmes. These support groups stretch right across the spectrum – from Soweto to Sandton, Alexandra to Tembisa, Khayelitsha to Mitchells Plain. The settings vary from city to townships to rural villages.
With the exception of Social Phobia and Bipolar Disorder, women are more likely than men to develop anxiety and mood disorders (1. Shafar, 1976, 2. Kessler et al, 1994). Many women who have previously been limited by their disorders, have been given hope and guidance through the support group allowing them to resume their lives and fulfil their potential. In this regard, Ms. Wilson has empowered thousands of women through her actions and dedication.
Ms. Wilson has also made use of her diplomatic and persuasive skills to encourage sponsorship for the Group. She succeeded in encouraging 19 of the country’s top pharmaceutical companies to sponsor the Support Group. The DASG has since become the biggest private mental health initiative in South Africa with over 12 000 members.
Practically, the successful DASG has had an important impact in the South African mental health sector. The Group plays an essential role in decreasing the burden on the overworked health sector by helping identify problems, destigmatise illnesses, referring callers and encouraging compliance of treatments recommended. Dr. Annemarie Potgieter, Pretoria Psychiatrist and Advisory Board member, believes that we can never “overestimate the role of the support group. The sufferer comes into contact with people that are knowledgeable,” she says. “I have so many people coming to my office because they have been referred to me, not only by doctors or psychologists, but predominantly by the support group.”
The Group has also recently taken part in a first-ever worldwide survey conducted by the Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks (GAMIAN) and sponsored by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. The large scale study, which involved 11 advocacy organisations in Europe, South Africa, Latin America and North America, examined the relationship of the patient and health care provider in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders. The findings indicated that South African professionals are as up to date with the rest of the world but are not educating and informing their anxiety and depression patients sufficiently about the side effects and workings of medication.
The support group continues to play a valuable role in educating the public about all aspects of anxiety and mood disorders. Ms. Wilson consistently launches extensive awareness campaigns encouraging early identification of the disorders, and eliminating the discrimination and stigmatisation attached to them. Outreach programmes and countrywide talks are also undertaken regularly. Ms. Wilson travels extensively giving motivational and informative talks to professionals, the general public, sufferers and their family members. She has enriched thousands of lives across the whole racial and economic mix of South Africa.
Ms. Wilson has been the driving force behind the DASG. Without her commitment, energy, enthusiasm and initiative, the Group would never have been able to reach the heights it has. Her achievement can be seen as inspiration for other advocacy groups and anxiety sufferers showing what the powerful combination of ability and determination can achieve.
1. Shafar, S. (1976). Aspects of phobic illness. British Journal of Med. Psych, 49, 221-236.
2. Kessler et al (1994). Lifetime & 12 month prevalence of DSM III Psychiatric Disorders in the US. Arch. Psych., 51, 8 – 19.