Thuma Mina, Send Me, was the theme of the 4th Annual Durban Mental Health Symposium held on UKZN’s Howard College campus.

Organised by the KZN Mental Health Advocacy Group, the symposium was attended by mental healthcare practitioners and specialists from the Psychology, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Psychiatry fraternities from government, academic, private sector and nonprofit organisations in KwaZulu- Natal.

This symposium is a unique annual event that fosters networking and collaboration among mental health champions across disciplines and contributes to the strengthening and expansion of the local mental health support platform.

‘The Thuma Mina, Send Me theme is aimed at encouraging everyone to be responsible citizens by playing an active role in sensitising and creating awareness around mental health issues within their communities,’ said Dr Suvira Ramlall.

Ramlall, an academic leader in the College of Health Sciences and Clinical Psychologist Mr Suntosh Pillay, are both based at King Dinuzulu Hospital Complex, and are founding members of the five-year-old KZN Mental Health Advocacy Group. This initiative arose in response to the dire and increasing need for advocacy and services for mental illness.

Professor Bonga Chiliza, Head of the Psychiatry Department at UKZN, spoke about his recent research under the title: Language, Culture and Migration: Delivering Mental Health Care ‘met eish’. Chiliza’s presentation focused on diagnosis inaccuracies that take place in some mental health institutions because of language barriers and deficiencies in language translation.

‘Understanding the language being used is important. Doctor-patient communication and understanding are of absolute importance in healthcare and are issues we cannot take for granted,’ he said.

Mrs Shelly Ottino, mental health care user and activist, who has lived with bi-polar mood disorder for more than twenty years, shared details of the challenges, triumphs and personal insights experienced. ‘Mental illness like depression turns one’s life upside-down. All we need as mental illness sufferers is love and support. I am one of the fortunate ones because, despite the impact on them, my family has been very supportive throughout my journey,’ she said.

Professor Monique Marks: Head of Urban Futures Centre, Durban University of Technology, presented her research on Opioid Substitution Therapy and how it had impacted on the quality of the lives of heroin users that are being supported. She challenged the audience to rethink their notions of drug abuse and shared insights on how harm reduction should be approached.

Specialist Psychiatrist, Dr Kalpesh Narsi from eThekwini Health District, highlighted the low priority accorded to mental health and the importance of integrating mental health into primary care. In his talk titled Begging Bowls & Global Goals, he advocated for a task-sharing approach, cautioning that this should not be at the expense of having more specialists in the system.

Dr Jaclyn Lotter, Head of programmes, SA College of Applied Psychology, focused her talk on re-imagining the possibilities for mental healthcare in South Africa, arguing that ‘a different destination requires new roads.’ She called for a new narrative in mental health, one that looks at what is working well and that can create long-lasting change.

Chief Occupational Therapist at Ekuhlengeni Hospital, Mrs Nerena Ramith’s inspiring presentation was titled Skilled hands – healthy minds: Occupational therapy in mental health. Her presentation on novel and creative ways of occupationally engaging patients highlighted the importance and benefits of robust psychosocial rehabilitation programs in the care of those suffering with mental illness. The need for mental health practitioners to invest in their own mental wellness in the context of demanding and stressful work environments was also emphasised.

The announcement of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) office in Durban made earlier this year, was through efforts of the advocacy group. This has given a boost to mental health promotion and support in the province. Also launched this year was a collaboration with info4africa, who have since added mental health to their resource directory. This directory will enable the public to locate mental health service providers via their app.

Sponsors of the symposium included Bargain Books and Sanlam. The next major activity of the Advocacy Group is the 3rd Mental Health Advocacy Walk that will take place on 7 October at 9am at the North Beach amphitheater (opposite Elangeni Hotel).

Enquiries may be directed to kznsadag@anxiety.org or MHadvocacygroup@gmail.com

Words and photograph: Lihle Sosibo