ON THE eve of Youth Day 2004, reports have been streaming in to a “delighted” SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) in Sandton of young people in SA’s most remote and neglected areas taking up the challenge to fight mental illness and bring about an end to stigma.
SADAG’s founder and CEO, Zane Wilson, this week praised young people in outlying places such as Barkly West, Secunda, Brits and Vryburg who have boldly stepped in where the need is greatest.
Last year SADAG was awarded funding by the World Bank specifically for a series of outreach and education projects around mental health issues into remote areas of SA.
“Not only have we been able to reach these desperately needy communities with workshops around depression and suicide, but we are absolutely delighted with the response and commitment of young people who have picked up the challenge to support mentally ill people and fight the scourge of stigmatisation,” said Wilson.
While some of the young people have had professional training in social work or the humanities, others are “making do” with the barest minimum. Primary objectives have included setting up and sustaining community based support groups and presenting workshops on depression and suicide at local schools.
“While we are pleased with the responses so far, one must understand this against the backdrop of extreme poverty, rampant joblessness and the virtual absence of any meaningful infrastructure in dealing with mental health problems,” said Wilson.
Nkosinathi (23) from Barkly West near Kimberley, said one of the most serious problems they have to deal with is low self-esteem as a result of extreme poverty.
“There are great feelings of hopelessness when young people look around them and see their parents trapped in poverty and without jobs. Those feelings of not having choices or not having much of a future show in depression, substance abuse and even suicide,” he said.
Lebo (25) from Thlakgameng about 100km north west of Vryburg, said that, while community and family ties might still be quite strong, young people felt trapped if they stayed in rural areas.
“When they leave school with a matric and the chances of getting a job, let alone getting a job where they live, are so slight, depression sets in. From there it is just a small step to killing yourself,” she said.
“In some of the places where we live, we never see a psychologist or psychiatrist. And if someone is very sick they have to travel for a whole day just to get to where the doctors are,” said Moketsi (26) from Secunda.
The young people encounter high levels of stigma within communities. “That makes them shut up about their problems, because they are too afraid of what their friends will think,” said David (24) from Witbank.
Nthabiseng (26) from Brits said young people often left rural communities for the cities. “Then they come back with all the bad things such as drugs, violence and still feel hopeless.
“We encounter a lot of alcoholism, which also results in violence or other forms of delinquent behaviour – gangsterism and rape. Other impressionable youngsters will see this and try to be accepted in those groups. That’s how the problem grows,” she said.
David said “We have to educate our people about their problems and what they can do to make life better. We have to bring solutions here to these people so they can stay in the rural areas and join hands in fighting depression, drugs and other evils.”