The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) has noted with concern the fatal shooting of 16-year old Nathaniel Julies from Eldorado Park, allegedly by members of the South African Police Service (SAPS). According to media reports, Mr. Julies - a person with Down syndrome, who was non-verbal - was shot a few metres away from his home after he could not respond to police who were questioning him last week on Tuesday night. The disabled teenager succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday night at Baragwanath Hospital. As a result of these actions, protests ensued, with community members demanding justice for Mr. Julies, who was apparently unarmed at the time of the shooting. In the standoff between the community and the police, residents accused police of trying to cover up the murder of the teenager.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) runs an information desk where members of the public, family members and mental health care users (MHCU) are able to contact the organisation in order to obtain information regarding mental health services. Through the information desk, SAFMH is able to identify pertinent issues that need more investigation and bring awareness around mental health issues through our various platforms. In response to one such issue, which emerged prominently in recent times, SAFMH conducted a brief information gathering exercise during July 2020 by contacting different gender-based violence (GBV) shelters to enquire about their services for GBV survivors diagnosed with a mental illness.
COVID-19 has probably had an impact on everyone, globally. Some people have been affected directly by the virus, many people have been affected by restrictions on movement and travel, but most people have experienced increased stress and anxiety levels as a result of the global pandemic we are currently experiencing. As a result, the number of persons affected by mental health conditions has increased enormously, which is likely to put strain on the global mental health sector for years to come. With South Africa now being ranked in the Top 5 of the countries with the highest number of recorded COVID-19 cases, the impact this will have on the South African mental health sector is indeed worrying.
At this time, community-based mental health organisations deal with a number of simultaneous challenges. One of the main tasks is to try to protect persons with mental disabilities in their care from exposure to the virus - as far as this is possible. Organisations also need to deal with an increased workload arising from an increase in the number of persons whose mental health has been affected by COVID-19. At the same time, many organisations need to deal with staff shortages, as some staff are placed in isolation.
The pandemic has also put an additional financial burden on the mental health sector. Donations, income and funding have decreased as a result of the pandemic, while the need for resources and funding has actually increased enormously. Many organisations cannot even afford to purchase the much-needed sanitisers and personal protective equipment (such as face masks and gloves), which puts both their staff and beneficiaries at risk of infection.
Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month (PDAM) is celebrated every year in July. This year, PDAM comes at a challenging time when the world’s attention is on the COVID-19 pandemic. The impacts of this global emergency have affected how people live their lives, how industries function and the economic outlook of countries. The virus, which swiftly spread across the world since it was first identified in Wuhan, China in January 2020, has had unprecedented repercussions for the mental and physical well-being of people from all walks of life, from all over the world.
We are living through times that nobody could’ve ever predicted or prepared us for. Our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, will learn about our experiences in class and read about it in history books. These are times that test the strongest of us - physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.
But as much as we are all hoping for the best and looking forward to returning to a time where things are back to normal, it is crucial that we don’t miss the opportunity to reflect on what we are going through and sketch a legacy that future generations can learn from.
One of the biggest challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic has been the loss of control, coupled with increased stress, fear and anxiety. Most of the effects of the pandemic are outside of our control. We have lost control over our daily routines, over socialising, freely travelling, and over our work routines. COVID-19 has left many of us feeling completely and utterly uncertain.