Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month (PDAM) is celebrated every year in July. This year, PDAM comes at a challenging time when the world’s attention is on the COVID-19 pandemic. The impacts of this global emergency have affected how people live their lives, how industries function and the economic outlook of countries. The virus, which swiftly spread across the world since it was first identified in Wuhan, China in January 2020, has had unprecedented repercussions for the mental and physical well-being of people from all walks of life, from all over the world.
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.
While the mental health consequences of COVID-19 have raised concerns, the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH), has used this as an opportunity to drive mental health awareness, focusing on all South Africans. For this reason, for the year 2020, SAFMH is commemorating PDAM by focusing on the theme “Mental health for everyone, everywhere, now and beyond Covid-19”. Through this theme, the organisation is bringing to the forefront the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of all communities as the pandemic is affecting everyone, everywhere. The 2020 PDAM campaign highlights how all people’s mental health is affected in one way or another; regardless of whether they have a diagnosis or not.
Since the awareness month started at the beginning of July, SAFMH has run various activities aimed at raising public awareness on psychosocial disability, equipping members of the public with resources to care for their mental health, while staying safe and adhering to hygiene and other physical health guidelines. SAFMH has now also initiated a project that will give people the opportunity to share their mental health stories during this period. In order to help people keep track of their experiences, SAFMH has launched a scrapbook project to tell the story of COVID-19 in 2020 and document how living through it is affecting mental health or personal wellbeing. The scrapbook project will give people an opportunity to use this crucial moment to reflect on what they are going through and sketch a legacy that future generations can learn from.
To kick-off the month’s activities, SAFMH launched an animated video, titled “Coping with stress during COVID-19” which has been in circulation on social media platforms and through WhatsApp. Here is the video. The video is aimed at assisting people who are feeling the pressures of COVID-19 on their mental health and to help them by providing practical tips on how to cope with stress. This exciting resource is available in five South African languages, namely English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho and Tsonga and has been made available in easy to download formats for everyone. SAFMH developed the video based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines on looking after one’s mental health during this period, such as talking to people you trust when you feel overwhelmed, and practicing a healthy lifestyle e.g. eating and sleeping well and getting exercise.
This was followed by a free online public awareness presentation on psychosocial disability. The presentation, which was prepared a presented by SAFMH’s Mental Health Trainer, Zoleka Limakwe, attracted the interest of people across the country. Ms Limakwe’s presentation added to the public education of what psychosocial disability is and provided a perspective on some of the social risks that increase the likelihood of developing a mental illness.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has compromised the mental well-being of countless people. In SAFMH’s PDAM concept document for 2020 [available on request], SAFMH flagged some of the risks of unchecked mental health amidst COVID-19 as follows:
- Increased suicide risks
- Increasing stigma
- Mental and psychical health risks for healthcare workers
- Alcohol, tobacco and drug (mis)use
- People in treatment facilities and institutional care at risk of being severely affected by the COVID-19
- Compromised access to mental health services.
SAFMH hopes that it can continue to serve the mental health needs of all South Africans during this time, and will continue to publish information on COVID-19 and mental health over the months to come.
Masutane Modjadji (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