29 October 2021 Volume :9 Issue :46

UKZN Hosts World Mental Health Campaign

UKZN Hosts World Mental Health Campaign
Top from left: Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, Dr Siphelele Zulu, Professor Suvira Ramlall, Professor Matshepo Matoane and Dr Lynn Norton. Bottom from left: Mr Siyabonga Africa Mkhize, Ms Claudia Pfeiffer, Mrs Busisiwe Ramabodu and Dr Gulshan Sugreen.

The Human Resources Division (HRD) hosted UKZN’s World Mental Health Campaign under the theme: Mental Health in an Unequal World.

The aim of the campaign was to mark World Mental Health Day, to raise awareness and understanding about mental health issues, and to mobilise support for action from local and international communities.

The campaign provided an opportunity for University stakeholders to unite and to highlight how inequality can be addressed to ensure people enjoy good mental health.

The speakers for the day included the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for the College of Humanities, Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, who represented the office of the Vice-Chancellor; Dr Siphelele Zulu, the Executive Director: HR; Clinical Head of Specialised Psychiatry at King Dinuzulu Hospital, Professor Suvira Ramlall; a registered clinical psychologist and currently UKZN’s Dean and Head of the School of Applied Human Sciences, Professor Matshepo Matoane; the co-ordinator of the KwaZulu-Natal branch of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Dr Lynn Norton; the CEO of Umsamo Institute and Foundation, Mr Siyabonga Africa Mkhize; an employee wellness specialist from Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS), Ms Claudia Pfeiffer, and UKZN’s HRD Director, Mrs Busisiwe Ramabodu.

The programme was facilitated by Dr Gulshan Sugreen, HRD Manager.

In his address, Zulu welcomed participants and thanked the speakers for their contribution and support. Saying COVID-19 had made mental health a priority, Zulu highlighted the ongoing comprehensive wellness programme developed by the University before and during the pandemic, including the recent strategic partnership with ICAS.

He said through the programme, the University had not only provided counselling services to staff but also to their immediate family members. However, his concern was the low use of the programmes and encouraged staff to take advantage of the services provided. 

Zulu added that UKZN would soon offer alternative healing practices, including “African healing”. 

In his keynote address, Professor Mkhize said mental health problems were among the most common health issues globally, with a rise in the burden of mental health in Africa and South Africa. ‘In terms of the global burden of diseases, 14% has been attributed to neuropsychiatric disorders which have been growing at a rate of about 2% a year since 2000. It is estimated that neurological disorders will soon constitute seven of the top 10 causes with depression being the leading burden.’

With the rise in mental health issues among the youth, and with Africa and South Africa having a large number of young people, it was obvious that the continent was in a vulnerable position.

Professor Mkhize highlighted poverty as a contributor to mental health problems.

He said the rampant rise of gender-based violence (GBV) cases in the country had been associated with an increase in the number of girls aged between 10 and 14 falling pregnant, which he described as a form of violence directed at this section of the population. This would have negative mental health consequences not only for young people but their families and communities. 

There is a shortage of mental health professionals in the country, and the fact that 80% of the population in South Africa used English as a second language was a major communications barrier in treatment as well as being a social justice issue.

Turning to alternate traditional healing methods, he said UKZN needed to be commended for promoting traditional healing. Professor Mkhize said the Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Nana Poku had tasked him, working the Student Support Services, to look at the best way to incorporate the healing service and a partnership had been entered into with the Umsamo Institute.

The Umsamo Institute is a research, healing and teaching facility which examines how spiritual unrest manifests itself physically and mentally. Speaking on alternative mental health treatment, a spiritual advisor, Mkhize,provided the cultural perspective on African spirituality and mental health. He said African and Western healing needed to complement each other and work in unison to tackle mental health. 

‘We need to understand the kinds of African spirituality and spiritual problems, what they appear as and the underlying spiritual causes or contributing factors. Mental health or illness has an underlying spiritual context to it - some is inherited and some is not,’ said Mkhize. 

He explained the difference between ancestral and cultural mental issues saying a combination of the two could have significant consequences.

Ramlall spoke on Workplace Wellbeing: Time for a Paradigm Shift, highlighting the critical importance of wellbeing to the functioning and success of both the employer and the employee. She said while many organisations were concerned about absenteeism, ‘presenteeism’ was more of a pressing concern. ‘Our work life is not merely for income generation even though earning a livelihood is important for mental health. Work makes a significant contribution to our state of wellbeing and our wellbeing impacts directly on our work,’ said Ramlall.

If employees saw work solely as a source of income and stress, employers suffered. She said there was an urgent need to improve the access of employees to quality treatment, preferably through programmes based on integrated care models. 

Matoane spoke on mental health gatekeepers - focussing on suicide gatekeepers - and said suicide was the leading cause of death in the 15 to 29-year-old age group. She explained that gatekeepers were individuals strategically placed in communities to assist those presenting with mental health disorders.

Matoane said one in six South Africans suffered from anxiety, depression or substance use disorder, while 40% of South Africans with HIV had a mental disorder, and 41% of pregnant women were depressed. A most worrying statistic was that only 27% of people with mental illness were receiving treatment. 

Norton presented on services provided by SADAG, identifying support groups that deal with various mental health services. She said some of the support groups included services for LGBTI high school learners and there were meditation groups for general wellbeing, for family members caring for relatives with mental illness, and for university students coping with stress. Other services offered included mental health first aid, mental health literacy and community outreach.

Pfeiffer provided background on services provided by ICAS focussing on mental health first aid. She encouraged the audience to set goals. She encouraged those in need to download the ICAS App and to make use of the services offered.

Leading the panel discussion, Ramabodu highlighted the presentations for the day. During the discussion, panellists highlighted that there is still stigma surrounding mental health making it difficult for people to reach out for help. Social media was also highlighted as a contributor to mental health because of people aspiring to reach certain lifestyles however with the large number of people, especially the youth, on social media, Mkhize argued that social media can also be a great conversation starter while Norton added that social media is a reality and there are supportive channels that people can follow.

Words: Sithembile Shabangu

Photographs: Supplied


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