Exhibition on Human Rights for People Living with Mental Illness
The Department of Psychiatry held a string of Mental Health awareness events supported by the travelling exhibition on “Human Rights for people living with Mental Illness” by the DGPPN (German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics) and the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP). The exhibition was set up at the EG Malherbe Library, Howard College, University of KwaZulu-Natal.
The awareness events were aimed at creating a platform to discuss and tackle issues relating to Human Rights for people living with Mental Illness. The first being a lecture on Human Rights delivered by Professor Saths Cooper titled Challenges for Mental Health Professionals.
His talk traced origins of human rights from antiquity and their relevance for health professionals.
‘Health is a fundamental human right, indispensable for the exercise of many other rights in particular the right to development, and necessary for living a life in dignity,’ he said addressing the psychiatry and psychology professionals and students who attended the evening lecture.
Cooper is a past President of the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS), Board Member International Science Council (ISC), President Pan-African Psychology Union (PAPU), Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria, a visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg, Honorary Professor at the University of Limpopo and former Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of Durban-Westville.
The following day, a colloquium on Human Rights for People Living with Mental Illness was held where the guest speaker, Dr Mvuyiso Talatala used the Life Esidimeni Tragedy as a case study to explore the role of professional societies, like the South African Society of Psychiatrists, and individual clinicians of upholding and protecting the human rights of people living with mental illness. He eloquently discussed the ethical issues that face clinicians, like dual loyalty.
Knowledge Manager from the Rural Health Advocacy Project, Samantha Khan-Gillmore’s presentation focused on the importance of advocacy in the healthcare curriculum. Teaching undergraduate student’s advocacy would enable students to learn how to advocate for their patients – in and outside of the clinical environment and to also nurture social responsibility and social accountability in healthcare professionals.
Dr John Hunter, a mental healthcare user and activist, spoke of how people suffering from bipolar disorder are often stigmatized in their communities and in their workplace. He shared how he has fought delusions and distorted perspective of bipolar disorders by giving talks and supporting patients facing the same challenges.
Julie Parle, an Honorary Professor of History in the School of Social Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, shared her perspective on how the past has shaped the present state of psychiatric services in KwaZulu-Natal and why it must not be forgotten. She gave an eloquent history of the two largest psychiatric hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal – Town Hill Hospital and Fort Napier Hospital. Parle is a former President of the Southern African Historical Society, and has served on the South African National Archives Advisory Council.
‘We were pleased to be able to host the travelling DPPN exhibition as it stimulated thought about how physicians can be seen to be in cahoots with the government of the time. I think it was particularly timely for the exhibition to be hosted by UKZN’s Department of Psychiatry as we are currently facing serious challenges in mental healthcare, and we have recently had a serious Oncology crisis in our province. We were able to use the exhibition to teach our students about acceptable ethical responses to our lifetime’s challenges. We were also able to highlight research areas, such as African Philosophy and Ethics, where UKZN has particularly excelled,’ expressed Head of the UKZN Psychiatry Department and President of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), Professor Bonga Chiliza.
Words: Lihle Sosibo