Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day 2019

SAFMH News Room

The 26th of May is Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day. This offers an opportunity to look back at the past, examine the present and envisage the future we want for those affected by this mental health condition. To this effect SAFMH has composed a press release on the issue. Read it below:

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Bipolar Disorder is a prevalent mental health condition, affecting 60 million people worldwide. Harddon, Hayes, Blackburn et al (2013) cite it as a serious mental illness. However, this is not to say that people with this mental health condition cannot lead happy and fulfilling lives.

According to the WHO (2014), mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” As the South African Federation for Mental health (SAFMH), we believe that everyone can live life in a good state of mental health, if only a conducive climate is created for them to do so. Bipolar Disorder need not be a life sentence. For 2019’s Bipolar Awareness Day on the 26th of May, this is what we aim to illustrate.

Bipolar Awareness Day is an opportunity to look back at the past, examine the present and consider what kind of future we want for people with this mental health condition. Such individuals have been prolifically discriminated against and relegated to a class of the incapable and infirm, their talents and capabilities chronically overlooked. The stigma surrounding this condition has led to poor rates of employment, institutionalisation and poor measures to accommodate such individuals in learning environments.

In reality, this is wholly unnecessary and places undue limitations on the exercise of the rights of individuals so-situated. This is not only a moral affront but is entirely unconstitutional- something society rarely thinks of in the way they treat such individuals.

Sifiso Mkhasibe, a Project Leader at SAFMH, refers to himself as a “survivor of Bipolar Disorder.” Mkhasibe struggled with the disorder for years- at times hospitalised and isolated- until he was provided with the right treatment regimen and proper assistance. Today he is confident and successful, having taken control of his life:

“Days, weeks, months went by, until I realised enough is enough. I had to take ownership of Bipolar Mood Disorder. I educated myself about the symptoms I had experienced when I was diagnosed…once I had learned how to manage my Bipolar Mood Disorder, life started to become clearer, I knew what I had to do and how to do it. I was no longer a victim of my Bipolar Mood Disorder. I stopped defining myself as a person with Bipolar Mood Disorder, now I just say I had those symptoms when I was diagnosed. I am on medical treatment and I do not present those symptoms any longer.”

There are different support structures that, if put in place and available to those needing it, can aid in the recovery of people with Bipolar Disorder. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) (no date) treatment can take the form of the provision of medication, psychotherapy, family support groups or periodic hospitalisation as a last resort. Authors like Mkize (2003) highlight that assistance from traditional healers is also one of the options available to people with mental illness. A further mechanism which can be used to support such individuals is reasonable accommodation in the workplace, as contained in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997. There are thus many mechanisms that can be employed to enable people with Bipolar Disorder to have a good quality of life.

Unfortunately, state structures frequently fail those with this mental health condition. An example of this is the inadequate number of trained professionals to care for such individuals and lack of information concerning lay counsellors who render services to people with mental health conditions. According to the WHO’s Mental Health Atlas (2019), South Africa has only 1.52 psychiatrists per 100 000 people. The same document indicates that there are only 16.56 beds available in psychiatric hospitals per 100 000 people. There is no evidence surrounding how many support groups there are. In addition, only R99.47 is budgeted per person for mental health services on an annual basis. What is perhaps the most problematic of all is the fact that, in many instances, there is simply no data available on the state of mental health in South Africa, with the Atlas indicating in many places that there is no information or that no information has been reported on various items such as community-based organisations (which the United Nations (2018) has acknowledged as something that needs to be developed and recognised) or length of stay in inpatient facilities. Another example of how the state is not supporting mental health adequately is the failure to employ adequate numbers of people with disabilities (this includes people with mental health conditions), – let alone take steps to reasonably accommodate them. According to the Commission for Employment Equity Annual Report (2017/2018), only 1.3% of the workforce were people with disabilities, in comparison with the employment equity target for employment of such individuals which is 2%.

SAFMH is a non-governmental organisation seeking to protect and uphold the rights of people with mental health conditions. We wish to issue calls to action first to society and then to government:

We urge members of the public, friends and families of people with Bipolar Disorder and people with the disorder themselves to become educated about this mental health condition so that the stigma surrounding it can be diminished. This will enable people with the condition to live in their communities, to work and to obtain an education.

We call upon the state as the primary duty-bearer to take steps to realise the rights of people with Bipolar Disorder and to ensure that basic services improve. The state must also take steps to provide human rights education to the public.

Bipolar Disorder can be disabling, but it need not be the governing force in a person’s life. With proper intervention and care, people with this mental health condition can flourish and thrive, if only they are given the chance to do so. It’s time to #takeyourplace in ensuring the needs of people with Bipolar Disorder are met.


Contact Details
Nicole Breen
Project Leader: Information and Awareness
South African Federation for Mental Health
Tel: 011 781 1852
Cell: 072 2577 938

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