LEADERSHIP AWARD APPLICATION
Name of Applicant: Theresa (Therry) K. Nhlapo
Job Description: Outreach Co-ordinator for
The Depression and Anxiety Support Group
Theresa (Therry) Nhlapo joined the Depression and Anxiety Support Group (DASG) in 1997 after leaving her position as Head of the Department for Natural Sciences at Mafori-Mphahele High School. During her three-year period of work at the DASG, she has achieved outstanding results by infiltrating disadvantaged and rural communities with education and support programmes. She has been instrumental in the creation of 35 outreach support groups, stretching countrywide from Qwa-Qwa to Umtata. The settings vary from townships (such as Alexandra and Soweto) to rural villages and cities. Two well co-ordinated groups are also flourishing in the Mogwase and Leeuwkop prisons, and there are plans to develop more groups in the near future.
Besides her unwavering efforts to empower depression and anxiety sufferers in these settings, Therry has also focused on increasing awareness about mental disorders amongst health professionals. Therry co-ordinates with psychiatrists to address doctor’s workshops and meetings on topics such as depression, panic disorder, social phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder. These workshops have been so successful, that similar training programmes are also being offered to teachers, police, social workers and nurses.
Another important project, which Therry has spearheaded, is the implementation of a pilot programme on the diagnosis and management of common mental disorders in primary health care under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The objective of this WHO project was to develop an education programme designed to be a blueprint for a variety of different cultures and settings. In just three months, Therry achieved the monumental task of training 83 doctors and 285 professionals in the Mpumalanga area.
With her teaching background, Therry still has a keen interest in implementing programmes in conjunction with the Department of Education in order to help teachers and students’ combat depression and the high incidence of teen suicide in schools. She has also conducted Corporate Educational Programmes on depressive and anxiety disorders in the work environment.
Therry is determined to fight the stigma that surrounds anxiety and depressive disorders, particularly in the black community. She scored a first by liasing with the Traditional Healers Association in order to inform them about western medication for mental illness.
In South Africa, where there are only 250 psychiatrists to service the entire population, the power of an advocacy organisation can be harnessed in order to compensate for the lack of mental health resources. Therry’s hard work has impacted greatly on the communities that she has touched. Sufferer’s who were previously incapacitated by the fear and devastation of an anxiety or depressive disorder, have been released from their trauma through education and support. Once they have been healed through corrective therapy or medication, they find that they are able to resume happy and productive lives. Work and familial problems that previously arose because of depression or anxiety are also resolved once the disorders have been treated.
Therry’s efforts have not gone unrecognised. In acknowledgement of the Support Group’s groundbreaking work in the disadvantaged and rural communities of South Africa, the SA Federation of Mental Health recently honoured the group with an award for “reaching service users in previously disadvantaged areas” and “creating several support groups in hitherto unserved areas.”
By orchestrating the successful formation and running of 35 rural support groups countrywide, Therry has demonstrated her strong leadership and motivational abilities. She has encouraged the financial support of 19 pharmaceutical companies in order to fund her efforts, and has proved to them that she has both the ability and drive to make full use of their sponsorship. Further, she has motivated numerous sufferers, doctors and mental health professionals to open support groups in their areas and has guided them through the initial difficult stages.
Therry currently sits on the Federation for Mental Health’s Board of Management. She also represents the Federation of Mental Health at the SA Federal Council on Disability and serves on the Board of Trustees of the Development Fund for Disabled People.
Whenever Therry and her group chose to infiltrate a new area, they make use of a three dimensional approach. The first step involves Therry setting up a workshop to interface with all general practitioners (and other health-care professionals), social workers and teachers in the vicinity of the targeted community. This is very important as many areas have health-care and social support services lagging behind in terms of education and expertise. The second step involves the actual establishment of the regional support group, which pursues effective self-help methods. The final phase involves re-assessing the support group after a period of time has passed. It is essential to maintain regular monitoring of the progress and functioning of the support groups. Changes need to be implemented occasionally in order to improve the functioning of the group.
As a result of the ongoing success of the rural developments initiated by Therry and the Support Group, not only are sufferers empowered to seek treatment but also to take an active role on their road to “wellness”. Families previously economically and socially hampered by the illness of a family member benefit from the sufferer having access to support systems and later perhaps to helping other sufferers coming to terms with and overcoming their conditions. Therry’s commitment, enthusiasm and skill in her role as Outreach Co-ordinator for the Support Group has made a tangible difference in the lives of thousands of disadvantaged sufferers. In the words of Ernest Magopodi, an inmate at Mogwase Prison and member of the successful Mogwase Prison Depression and Anxiety Support Group, “I was a victim – I am now a survivor!”
Referee: Julie-Anne Roberts