I had to share my story, show the world that there is no shame in having mental health challenges, and talk about them openly. It is no dirty secret that has to be whispered about in dark rooms.” – a mental health expert through their lived experience who kindly shared their lifestory with SAFMH
Discrimination and stigma are leading reasons for why mental health is not prioritised in health systems and why people do not seek care for their mental health needs. A UNICEF South Africa U-Report poll shows that 65% of young people did not seek help for a mental health issue, 18% of those respondents said this was due to fears of what people would think of them.
“We need to change our attitudes towards mental health to reduce this stigma, and this World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is an opportunity to do that collectively”, says Shayni Geffen, Project Leader: Advocacy and Awareness at the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH).
WMHD is celebrated on 10 October annually.
Says Geffen: “These events provide an opportunity to re-spark and deepen the commitment we give to mental health as individuals, communities, and countries. Mental health should be a global priority for all people, not just during October, but every day and in every country. Because, we all have mental health and it is a human right.”
This WMHD, SAFMH invites people to reflect on how their attitudes towards mental health hinder or promote mental health becoming a national and global priority.
“While we have come a long way in talking about mental health, there is still a far longer way to go”, says Geffen.
“No country is adequately equipped to meet the mental health needs of their population. This is due to shortages of human resources, lack of prevalence data and prejudice. When we work to make mental health a global priority, countries can share, learn, and implement best practices for mental health and global donors may become more likely to direct resources to mental health services. We all benefit.”
Geffen says, in South Africa, stigma and discrimination against people with mental health conditions is common.
“Today we remember Jostina Sangweni, a person living with schizophrenia from Soweto who was beaten and burned alive in 2021. This incident illustrates the danger of stigma and why shifting attitudes towards mental illness is so desperately needed.”
This WMHD SAFMH will target the following key groups as part of its campaign plans, with the focus on understanding and shifting attitudes. This WMHD SAFMH calls for:
- Government to show how it is working internally with its employees so that stigma against mental illness does not impede decision-making, policy-setting and resourcing;
- Media to consider its role in shifting attitudes regarding mental health. Specifically, how reporting could promote positive attitudes towards mental health and prevent stigma and discrimination;
- The public to reflect on their attitude towards mental health as these could help or hinder their and their loved ones’ uptake of available mental health services;
- Organisations to help shift attitudes to mental health within the contexts they operate. This could be aimed at their own staff and customers / service users.
“We hope that our multi-level awareness campaign aimed at shifting attitudes will help make mental health and well-being a priority for all in South Africa. We call on everyone in South Africa to join hands with us to shift local attitudes to promote global change,” says Geffen.