ANTI-STIGMA WORKSHOP FOR SUBSTANCE ABUSE
The South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group (DASG), in keeping with it’s ongoing commitment to creating awareness, and educating the public on the need for tolerance and understanding of mental illness, hosted it’s third anti-stigma workshop at the Hilton, Sandton, this week. The topic this time round was substance abuse. The turn out by the media testified to a heartening commitment to responsible mental health reporting, and to an ongoing effort to destroy the stigma that is so often attached to mental health issues.
The workshop, hosted by the DASG and sponsored by Sanofi-Synthelabo, offered the media an opportunity to obtain accurate information about substance use disorders, as well as to gain access to the frightening statistics on drug-use among our youth today.
Presenting the discussions on substance use disorders and the dangers thereof in a South African context, were Dr C. Perkel and Dr D. Wynchank, two Johannesburg psychiatrists. Both are experts in the field of substance use disorders. The message that they brought home was that seeing drug taking behaviour as nothing but bad behaviour simply serves to perpetuate the misery of these people who need help, and that there is an urgent need to educate people on the dangers and treatments of substance abuse so that this ugly cycle may be halted.
The two doctors also said that it was time to put pressure on medical providers, educators and legislators to help change people’s views on substance abuse, and to get away from the stereotypes of our conservative past. Among the issues discussed was the fact that violence generally follows illicit drug use, and that in South Africa particularly, we could gain much from an accurate understanding of the disorder behind it.
The workshop coincides with the DASG’s launch of the new Sanofi-Synthelabo Substance Abuse toll-free help line. This dual initiative has been embarked upon in an effort to curb the ever growing number of substance abuse cases, and to help individuals to gain access to professional help.
The support group has a team of trained counsellors ready to assist, and can be contacted Monday to Friday, 8am – 7pm, and on Saturday from 8am – 5pm.
Dr. Wynchank concluded the workshop by saying that although the estimated figure of people abusing drugs worldwide was around a staggering 30 million, this figure was likely to be far greater as only about one in every three addicts ever receives treatment. She also said that just over 23% of people under the age of 12 currently smoke cannabis in South Africa. With figures as alarming as these, parents who are in denial that their children have a drug problem only serve to aid in or fuel this problem.
Through knowing the facts, we can all destroy misconceptions about substance abuse in South Africa, and enable those in need of support or treatment to gain access to these facilities without the stigma that is so often attached.