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DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY SUPPORT GROUP EMPOWERS

THOUSANDS OF DISADVANTAGED SUFFERERS

One of the most important spheres in which the Support Group has played a noticeable role is that of reaching out to poorer communities through education and support programmes. Over the past year, the Support Group has focused on expanding into the rural areas and making a tangible difference in the mental health field.

Therry Nhlapo, the Outreach Co-ordinator for the Support Group, has been committed to implementing outreach programmes in areas where resources are scarce and there is a lack of education and funds for the community. In these such areas, Therry embarks on a campaign to educate local doctors, primary health care workers and the general community about the symptomology and treatment of the various depressive and anxiety disorders. Dr. Seape, psychiatrist at Baragwanath Hospital and member of the group’s advisory board, sees these programmes as making help accessible to all people in South Africa. “The group emphasises that there is something people can do on their own even without psychiatric help” she says.

Therry has been instrumental in the creation of 28 outreach support groups which are mainly run by ex-sufferers and pursue effective self-help programmes. These support groups are found countrywide stretching from Tembisa to Kimberly, Mmabatho, Klerksdorp, Umtata and Qwa-Qwa. The settings vary from townships eg: Alexandra, Soweto to cities e.g., Pretoria, Potchefstroom to rural villages e.g., Thlabane. These outreach support groups empower sufferers in three important ways. Firstly, they help to ease the stigma of depression and anxiety disorders as the sufferers learn more about their disorders and identify with each other. Secondly, they help to ease the burden placed on the sufferers’ families as the sufferers find invaluable support and understanding in these groups. Finally, they give the sufferers a collective “voice” so that they are able to campaign for their rights.

The Support group is also trying to make a significant impact on the correctional services. A well co-ordinated support group is flourishing in Mogwase Prison and Leeuwkop is also under a pilot scheme at the moment, and there are plans to open groups in the near future. Therry was initially made aware of the strong need for depression and anxiety education in the prison environment by the earnest efforts of a Mogwase Prison inmate, Thabo Sekano. The Support Group consequently launched extensive educational campaigns into Mogwase and Leeuwkop, combating ignorance about the disorders and promoting the establishment of support groups for inmates suffering from either depression or anxiety. The absence of regular psychologists and psychiatrists in the prison environment further highlights the important role the support group is playing in this.

Therry has forged vital links between the Support Group and the Sangoma Association of South Africa. The Support Group has become increasingly aware of the significant role that traditional healers play in the mental health of many black South Africans. A number of workshops and meetings arranged between The Support Group and Sangoma Association has resulted in closer co-operation between the two groups in the interests of mental health.

In most instances, mental health sufferers in rural or disadvantaged areas will present to primary health care facilities first. Due to this fact, the Support Group keeps regular contact with clinics and continually updates sisters, nurses and social workers on any developments in the anxiety and depression spheres. Unfortunately, psychiatric and psychological services in many of the smaller clinics are still very limited. However, there are a number of competent doctors and psychiatric nurses that are available to provide sufferers with a variety of effective medications.

On other occasions, The Support Group has supported the use of free medical trials in association with various pharmaceutical companies. These trials enable sufferers without medical aid to acquire free medication for up to 12 months or longer, should it be further motivated.

The Support Group persistently focuses on school talks as part of the outreach programme. Both teacher and student workshops are conducted in an effort to de-stigmatise mental health disorders and raise community awareness regarding anxiety and depression. Some of the many schools that have been addressed include Grace College (Benoni), Jabulani Technical High School (Soweto), Dan Kutumela School (Bronkhorstspruit), Gatang Comprehensive (Mamelodi) and Vaalmandal (Soshanguve).

The Support Group continues to help depression and anxiety sufferers across the racial and socio-economic spectrum of South Africa. It is committed to aiding disadvantaged communities at grass-roots level through education and support. The 28 support groups that have been established country-wide empower anxiety and depression sufferers and give them a collective voice. 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!”