Hundreds step up for 'South Africa's biggest mental health advocacy walk'
Building social solidarity outside the formal healthcare system is the heartbeat of community activism, said clinical psychologist and researcher Suntosh Pillay on World Mental Health Day on Tuesday.
Reflecting on the KwaZulu-Natal Mental Health Advocacy Walk held on Durban's beachfront on Sunday, Pillay said people show up for the event because they know public visibility helps to put their needs on the agenda.
More than 850 people turned out for the walk.
“Funding for psychological and psychiatric services, in the private and public sectors, is inconsistent and unpredictable, resulting in inequitable access to healthcare,” he said.
Pillay, co-founder of the KwaZulu-Natal Mental Health Advocacy Group, a network of community health activists, has been organising the walk since 2016 with Professor Suvira Ramlall. They met while working in the public sector.
“The walk is now the flagship community-driven mental health event in the province, if not the country. We are probably the biggest, free, mental health walk in SA right now.”
According to the 2019 World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Health Estimates report, South Africa recorded the third-highest suicide rate out of all African countries, accounting for 23.5 such deaths per 100,000 people. In 2019, 13,774 suicides were reported nationwide, of which 79% were men.
"There is indeed a particular crisis in men's mental health and our violent apartheid history has a lot to do with it. But I was encouraged to see so many young and older men walk this year,” Pillay said.
Ramlall, a psychiatrist, said: “The phenomenal turnout of people of all ages, despite the inclement weather, shows the need for advocacy and health promotion. Hats off to our 30 stallholders from the nonprofit, private and government sectors who provided information to the public.”
Nwabisa Tsita, who joined the walk, said: “As a service user, the walk is more than just an event, but an important act of advocating for awareness and better mental healthcare services for all.”
Sanele Nkosi, a psychologist at King Dinuzulu Hospital in Sydenham, said it was heartwarming to see people come together despite the poor weather.
Meanwhile vascular surgeon Dr Vinesh Padayachy said Mental Health Awareness Month shone a spotlight on the often-overlooked psychological aspects of medical conditions.
“One such understated aspect of mental health is the emotional journey of patients undergoing lower limb amputations, a procedure often necessitated by conditions like diabetes and septicaemia.”
Padayachy said when confronted with the necessity of a limb amputation, patients are thrust into a whirlwind of emotions, ranging from shock and denial to fear and sadness.
“The prospect of losing a part of oneself is overwhelmingly distressing, often leading to anxiety and depression. Pre-surgery anxiety is a common and significant hurdle, with many patients unwilling to let go of the limb despite understanding the life-threatening risks involved.”
Padayachy and his team employ a multidisciplinary approach involving psychologists, counsellors and support groups to help patients cope with the impending loss and understand the necessity of the procedure.
“Clear, compassionate communication about the procedure and its outcomes is crucial to alleviate fears and facilitate acceptance.”
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