Stigma remains one of the main barriers faced by persons with a psychosocial disability [PD] in South Africa today. It is a major cause of discrimination and exclusion, affects people’s self-esteem, disrupts relationships and limits people’s ability to socialise. Stigma can also prevent people from seeking the help they need.
Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month (PDAM) is celebrated annually in July. This year, the SA Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) will be focusing on the theme “Shattering stigma: sparking conversations and shifting attitudes”, focusing on challenging and dispelling the stigma surrounding PD, with the aim of highlighting the need for persons with lived experience of PD to be at the forefront of anti-stigma programming as we work to shift ongoing, widely-pervasive negative attitudes towards PD.
Stigma is incredibly harmful, but it does not have to be inevitable. Evidence from high-and low-income countries suggests that anti-stigma interventions can change public attitudes for the better.” – Michel’le Donnelly, Project Leader: Advocacy and Awareness at the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH).
We know that PD continues to be misunderstood, and stigma is one of the main reasons for this. However, it we can bring about change, and it is therefore up to us to develop meaningful anti-stigma interventions that bring persons with PD’s lived experience to the forefront of programming, policies and stories.
A lot still has to be done, but I learned sharing experiences is a journey of healing and helps de-stigmatise mental health problems.” – a mental health care user from Johannesburg
SAFMH believes that stigma can be eradicated if we start by meaningfully shifting attitudes to psychosocial disabilities across all areas of society. This PDAM we call for:
- Media to consider their role in shifting attitudes regarding PD. Specifically, how their reporting could promote positive attitudes towards PD and prevent stigma and discrimination.
- The public to reflect on their attitude towards PD as this can go a long way in supporting more community inclusions for persons with PD.
We also call on the South African government to commit to their aims, as set out in the National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2023 – 2030, and to establish a robust national public education programme that focuses on knowledge sharing and stigma and discrimination against persons with lived experience. In addition to establishing this programme, government should also implement widespread, detailed anti-stigma programmes that are developed in close collaboration with persons with lived experience and advocacy organisations, to ensure that the barriers faced in destigmatising mental illness are comprehensively addressed. We also continue to call for purposeful commitment from government to listen to the stories of persons with PD, to learn from these, and to utilise these learnings within areas such as policy development and implementation.
We also call on organisations working with persons with PD to commit to including their mental health care users in all aspects of anti-stigma policy and programming (see our infographic here). We also ask these organisation to encourage persons with PD to share their experiences and to be proud of their stories, with the aim of inspiring compassion, trust and understanding. Storytelling has been shown to be an effective tool in terms of advocacy and reducing stigma and improving overall mental health care. It also goes a long way in ensuring the inclusion for persons with PD in all aspects of life (Ball, 2013).
In addition to sharing the PDAM campaign message far and wide, SAFMH will be running a storytelling workshop with persons with PD. The workshop will aim to share the structures and fundamentals when it comes to harnessing narratives, with the aim of providing persons with PD with the skills to share their stories and experiences with others.
You can read the full concept document here.
For media enquiries, please contact:
Michel’le Donnelly – Project Leader: Advocacy & Awareness
CELL: +27 (0)79 799 6533
For general enquiries, please contact:
CELL: +27 (0) 86 558 6909
Notes to editors
SAFMH is a South African-based non-profit organisation. We believe access to quality mental health care is a human right and strive to make this happen through our advocacy. Are you interested in shifting attitudes towards mental health and mental health care? Please reach out if you are interested in covering more positive messaging around mental health and community-based mental health care in South Africa.