Mental health cases are on the rise at the Amaoti Advice office in Inanda Kwazulu- Natal. Moreover, community members who suffer from mental health conditions endure marginalization and stigmatization by community members due to their condition because the community believes it to be witchcraft.
Sabelo Mfeka, a CJN paralegal journalist, spoke to us about October being Mental Health Awareness Month. He says that mentally ill people endure social stigma and there is lack of sympathy in his community towards these people. Their own families often label them “possessed” or “bewitched” abandoning them to be further marginalized by the community.
Mfeka says he has seen a rise of mental health cases reported to his office. He therefore sees a need for intervention by the state and other community stakeholders. The mentally ill people in Inanda are outcasts, left to fend for themselves and far worse: there are those who suffer in silence with conditions like anxiety and depression.
“These cases of mental illness are never in isolation”, says Mfeka. He says he has observed in his consultations a link between substance abuse and denial amongst those living with mental health conditions. He further explains that by numbing the pain (with substances) the patients escape having to deal with the facts as well as seeking help.
Mfeka also tells us that because healthcare facilities for the mentally ill are an hour away from their community, community elders tend to “diagnose” people on their own by performing rituals and using ancient knowledge to remove the “bad spirits”. This ancient act has also attracted the attention of the young community members who now believe mental illness is a consequence of evil spirits.
Scientific and biological research has been published that supports the rights of mentally ill patients and dismisses the role of witchcraft. The 10th of October marks World Mental Health Day and acts as a platform to recognize mental and emotional disorders that affect society.
The aim of this day stems from the World Federation for Mental Health that has made an impact on international organizations, influencing heads of states to popularize national awareness campaigns about mental health. An example is the tragic turn of events for South African mental health sector where 144 mentally ill patients from Gauteng province died due to negligence. The patients from Life Esidimeni were moved to local NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) and this was in contravention with the governing acts of Mental Health in the country, such as the national health act and the mental health care act.
At CJN we seek to promote a community that knows its rights and is aware of national policies regarding access to justice, and our focus for this month is dedicated to paying attention and shedding light on mental health.
image sourced from : http://ppal.net/childrens-mental-health-week/about