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..... AND THE DAY THE LIGHTS WENT OUT

As part of our Community Outreach Project, we chose to start work in Siyabuswa, which is about 120 kilometres north of Pretoria, near Groblersdal.

The reason for Siyabuswa is that local resident Peter Mathlaela, who had panic for years was very keen to start a group in that area. Those of you who saw Improve Your Frame of Mind” will remember Peter as being very scared of cars and taxis and very anxious. Now, fully recovered he is keen to use his knowledge and recovery to help the rest of his community.

Therry Nhlapo in conjunction with Peter contacted all the doctors within a 60km radius, hospitals, psychiatric clinics, nursing sisters and teachers. We had over 50 professionals present from the surrounding areas.

Dr. Shana Saffer who very kindly gave up her day to accompany us, had just started her presentation when “poof” - no power!! The whole area lost its electricity for what we were told would be for 2 - 4 hours. So, Dr. Saffer and I were sitting in pitch black in the inner legislative assembly with no windows at all, and the only light coming through the entrance doors. Our audience felt disinclined to move, so in pitch blackness with no notes or overhead slides, Dr. Saffer gallantly continued.

Questions, which were many, were often centred on the fact that there was no psychiatrist or psychologist regularly in the area, and limited resources both financially and medically. We found that teachers felt that students who suffered from Social Phobia and/or anxiety were quite common in that area. They were very worried about the high incidence of nervous breakdowns they have in their schools, especially towards exams. Therry pointed out the need to familiarise pupils to exam conditions long before they are to sit for exams. She suggested workshops that teach children how to study or prepare for exams would also be helpful. The importance of the guidance teacher knowing more about these disorders was also discussed. Other questions centred around medication and treatment, i.e. what medication is most suitable, how long should patients stay on medication, is the medication addictive and what if one does not want to use medication. The question of what age children could present with anxiety disorders was also posed.

One doctor pointed out that no black people present themselves to doctors with the symptoms outlined in our brochures on panic, to which Therry answered that she has had calls from black people from all over the country who have had these symptoms for years, but could not explain them easily. Peter also pointed out that he suffered from panic for years without knowing what was wrong with him, until he read an article in a magazine detailing symptoms similar to the ones he was experiencing. He contacted the support group and was referred to a doctor. He is now leading a normal healthy life. Peter is now ready to help others who have the same problem. Through our intensive media coverage of the disorders people are now discovering that they have a real medical condition that can be treated. The fact that many people use traditional healers for illnesses they cannot explain was also highlighted.

After the meeting for the professionals, Therry spoke to about 15 members of the public who all wanted to join the local support group. They were particularly interested in Social Phobia that they considered to be more prevalent in their community.

In the evening, Peter hosted his first support group meeting, which was attended by 13 people. We hope to hear from Peter on an ongoing basis about the progress he is making.

We felt our initiative in Siyabuswa had gone very well and ended up with an invitation for us to give more talks as soon as possible, particularly to women’s organisations in the area. We will schedule these as soon as possible. Once again, our sincere thanks to Dr. Shana Saffer for her contribution to the day’s success.