UKZN Students Contribute to Mental Health Walk Success
UKZN Psychology students were the main volunteers at the annual Advocacy Walk organised by the KwaZulu-Natal Mental Health Advocacy Group to raise awareness about the neglected issues of mental illnesses and substance abuse and their impact on wellbeing.
More than 700 people participated in the walk which started at the amphitheatre on Durban’s North Beach.
President of the Student Society of Psychology at UKZN Ms Shwetha Singaram said volunteering for the walk was a fulfilling experience.
‘At such a beautiful location, I not only felt Durban’s warm atmosphere but the warmth of its people,’ said Singaram. ‘It was so encouraging to see people from all walks and colours of life coming together to send an important message. I am grateful to the Mental Health Advocacy Group for organising this significant event.’
A specialist psychiatrist and academic leader at UKZN’s College of Health Sciences, Dr Suvira Ramlall, said mental illness was a topic shrouded in misconceptions even though ‘it is not unlike other medical disorders and has recognised and effective treatments, such as medication and psychosocial therapies.
‘Mental health is everybody’s business, from the home, schools to tertiary institutions and the workplace, mental health and illness have far reaching and serious implications for the health, economy and success of a nation,’ said Ramlall, who helped initiate this event.
This year’s global theme for World Mental Health Day on October 10 centred on young people in a changing world. A clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Advocacy Group, Mr Suntosh Pillay, said the youth were especially vulnerable to mental health problems in a country like South Africa.
‘Incidents of suicide and depression are increasing among young people, with the situation worsened by poverty, inequality and unemployment. Our larger socio-political situation has direct effects on psychosocial wellbeing and mental health, so it’s our moral duty to be activists in an area that is largely fragmented and consistently side-lined by local, provincial and national government,’ said Pillay.
During the walk to uShaka and back, patients, families, professionals, and the public spread messages of hope carrying placards that called for an end to stigma and silence around mental health, with some urging that vacant public sector posts be filled. The morning included free health screenings, HIV testing, aerobics classes by Virgin Active, and free advice from local organisations, such as Alzheimer’s KZN, Nurture, Alcoholics Anonymous, Advice Desk for the Abused, the Mental Health Review Board, Ikhewzi Welfare Organisation, HIV Addiction Technology Transfer Centre, and the Mum’s Support Network.
Staff from various government hospitals - including Ekuhlengeni, Townhill, RK Khan and King Dinuzulu – were also present.
Lynn Norton, the manager of Durban’s new SADAG office, said the response was inspiring. ‘The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) KZN was a proud partner in this event, and we had almost 100 people sign up at our stall to become volunteers, showing the great interest and need for open dialogue about mental health,’ said Norton.
UKZN alumnus Mr Livashlin Naidoo, who participated in the Walk, said he was ‘proud’ to be there. ‘It was a well co-ordinated and commendable event. I will definitely be there to support any future endeavours to help raise awareness for mental health,’ said Naidoo.
Pillay urged all mental health stakeholders to unite. ‘Once again, this event shows the urgent need for collective action and collaboration. Done entirely on donations and sponsorships, a wide range of corporate and non-profit partners came on board to help out. Together we can do more.’
To get involved, partner, donate, or volunteer, email: MHadvocacygroup@gmail.com
Words: Mental Health Advocacy Group