THE TRAGIC shooting incident outside former president Nelson Mandela’s Cape Town home has spotlighted once again the need for far greater care to be taken of the psychological wellbeing of people who work in situations that expose them to excessive levels of trauma.
Although current investigations still have a long way to go before the full circumstances surrounding the incident that led to the death of former SANDF Major George Makume are fully revealed, some initial reports have suggested he may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is deeply concerned about the potential negative effects that inaccurate and sensational suggestions may have, not only on the investigations now underway, but also on public perceptions about PTSD, a very serious and complex psychological condition that affects thousands of South Africans.
If indeed Major Makume was suffering from PTSD or depression it should underscore how deadly serious the condition is and why anyone who has experienced trauma, whether as a victim or even merely as an observer, must be given every access to the fullest possible professional therapy. This is doubly necessary for the hundreds of thousands of people whose careers demand that they be subjected to daily trauma – the men and women in our defence forces, our police, our emergency services, our welfare services and our hospitals.
SADAG, as well as hundreds of psychologists, social workers and counsellors, work hand in hand on a daily basis to try to address the needs – as well as the needless suffering – of people with PTSD. It is a vicious, subtle, debilitating and insidious condition which, as this week’s tragic events demonstrate only too well, can have fatal consequences. Similarly a host of other equally serious mental conditions and disorders, including depression, demand our attention.
Yet our experience and research has demonstrated time and time again that successful and appropriate professional intervention (including whatever necessary counselling, therapy, medication and support) almost invariably result in the sufferer regaining control of his or her life and returning to full and productive participation in society.
SADAG call on government, employers and indeed society at large to ensure the creation and sustenance of a culture in South Africa in which PTSD, and all other mental conditions, are not stigmatised, but are seen for what they are – real and serious affolictions which can be addressed and ultimately alleviated through professional intervention.
Stigmatisation is not only morally wrong and ethically archaic, but ultimately leads to putting all of us at risk. Tasteless and trite labelling of sufferers as "nutcases", "looneys" and "deranged" is a profoundly sad indictment on society at large. It also places unnecessary and painful obstacles in the path to mental welfare.