“Mental illness doesn’t discriminate according to age, race, wealth or creed – it affects all walks of life. Therefore it is imperative that we all, regardless of circumstance, take responsibility of our mental wellbeing and become mental health ambassadors.”
This is according to Health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, who delivered the keynote address at the Mental Health Information Day hosted by Lentegeur Hospital in commemoration of World Mental Health Day.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, World Mental Health Day is observed annually on October 10.
Also in attendance was the newly elected ambassador for Lentegeur Hospital, Dr Adé van Heerden, Miss South Africa 2017 runner-up and 2017 Miss World representative who hopes to assist the facility to raise awareness about mental health and reduce associated stigma on a global platform.
“In order to lead for change, we need to start becoming comfortable with seemingly uncomfortable topics.
“Speaking freely about mental illness creates the opportunity for someone in need to seek help. “As an ambassador, I hope that I can positively contribute in shifting public perception on how we understand mental health,” said Dr Van Heerden.
Dr Mbombo highlighted that psychiatric services in the Western Cape remained under pressure, particularly as a result of the high rate of substance abuse, acuity of patients and limited availability of group home facilities. “Lentegeur Hospital had more than 1600 inpatient admissions during the 2016/ 2017 financial year – the majority of these admissions were male.
“More than 60% of patients admitted to Lentegeur Hospital have a co-morbidity of substance use and mental illness. Reports indicate that marijuana (dagga) and methamphetamine (tik) are the top two substances used by clients,” she said.
Dr Mbombo explained that relapse, due to non-adherence to a medication regime, was a common occurrence for mental health patients and mainly caused by lack of family support and stigma.
“Individuals with mental health problems and their families are often subjected to stigma, discrimination and victimisation. Stigma surrounding mental health prohibits individuals and their family members from seeking assistance and support. This is especially prevalent in impoverished communities, due to religious and cultural traditions,” said Dr Mbombo.
“The understanding of mental illness varies from community to community, but disappointingly, it carries a negative perception more often than not,” she added.
“Each and every member of the community has a role to play in eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness by becoming ambassadors. By becoming an ambassador for mental health, members of the community have a duty to openly discuss mental illness and get comfortable with it. In addition, embracing those living with mental illness in the community will encourage others in similar mental state to seek the medical assistance they require and be able to live a fulfilled life, without discrimination. That opportunity should be afforded to all humans, regardless of their mental disposition.”