The month of July marks Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month (PDAM). This year PDAM commemorations come at a time when the world’s attention is on the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, very little data on the mental health toll as a consequence of the pandemic is available as some countries such as South Africa are still to reach their peak. But experts warn that the global emergency could have sweeping effects on the mental well-being of populations across the world. This applies to people with pre-existing mental health conditions and to those who might still develop such problems in future, recognising that some might overcome their mental health challenges in a short space of time while others might need long-term interventions to help them overcome the impacts of COVID-19 on their mental well-being.
A psychosocial disability is when a mental illness is prevalent and limits a person’s ability to function fully and as a result, prevents them from being able to claim their rights or to participate fully in society. This might include (for example) their ability to access employment or education. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), psychosocial disabilities are one of the leading causes of disability across the globe, in both developed and developing countries alike. This, the WHO warns, could worsen in ten years’ time should there be no interventions.
For 2020, the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH), is commemorating PDAM by focusing on the theme “Mental health for everyone, everywhere, now and beyond Covid-19”, focusing on raising awareness on the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of communities across the board as the pandemic is affecting everyone, everywhere. While the science community is working around the clock to find a vaccine and a possible cure for COVID-19, there is a great need for mental health interventions to prevent a wave of mental health problems that the current crisis could bring about. According to the United Nation’s (UN) policy brief published earlier this year titled “Impact on the COVID-19 in Africa”, the indirect consequences of the pandemic could include food insecurity, shortages of medical resources, losses of income and livelihoods, difficulties in applying sanitary and physical distancing measures, the economic fallout as well as related political and security risks. These consequences have a large mental health component that could erode mental well-being from people across generations, social class, race and gender, who could be affected differently. The mounting calls for governments to use this crucial moment to fix their healthcare system and integrate mental health services to the benefit of everyone are legitimate, the UN also advices that making mental health a priority now will directly benefit national economic recoveries.
More than anything, the pandemic has reminded us that mental healthcare is the equal responsibility of individuals, government, corporates and civil society. Government has a responsibility of providing leadership in coordinating multi-sectoral responses and offering direction to ensure that the message of such responses reaches individuals and communities. This can be done through community engagements, awareness campaigns and capacitating community-based NGOs and offering them support to ensure that services for mental health care users are maintained at all times during the pandemic.
A South African research that was published in the BMC International Health and Human Rights journal, found that stigma, poverty and lack of community support were the three main environmental barriers to participation in policy development for people with psychosocial disabilities. Against this backdrop, SAFMH calls on the government to increase its consultation efforts in policy development to ensure that no one is left behind. As an organisation, we recognise and applaud all efforts to minimise the loss of life. However, we call on the government to also ensure that mental health is one of the priorities in their COVID-19 responses and for the long term investment in mental health post the pandemic.
We would also like to encourage members of the community to look for mental healthcare services within their communities and also follow tips and practical advice shared by authorities and organisations on looking after their mental health. On our part, SAFMH will use this month to highlight the impact of the virus on the mental health of all people, not only those with a diagnosis or with severe mental disorders, because everyone is affected. We will do this by hosting various online engagement forums throughout the month as well as continuing our efforts of advocating for the prioritising of mental health during national emergencies.
(Project Leader – Info & Awareness, SAFMH)
Tel: 011 781 1852
Please note that, until further notice, SAFMH will only be available for phone interviews and email enquiries.