On World Mental Health Day, 10 October, the Department of Health’s Makana Sub-District hosted a community education event at Tantyi Hall, Makhanda (Grahamstown). The purpose of the event was to promote awareness about mental health resources, as well as educate youth and their parents about the dangers of substance abuse. The event was well-attended by learners from five schools, parents and community members.
The morning opened in prayer and song as learners and community members piled into the hall. Ward Councillor Ramie Xhonxa gave an enthusiastic welcome to all in attendance before handing over to Sister Ntombenani Tshongweni, Nursing Manager at Settlers Day Hospital. Tshongweni emphasised the importance of taking care of one’s mental health and assisting others who are in need.
“Every problem has a solution,” she stated, adding that neglecting one’s mental health could lead to self-harm. Tshongweni commented on the need to address substance abuse in the community, highlighting that there are shebeens in nearly every street.
The keynote speaker for the event was Olwethu Mncono, an intern psychologist at Fort England Hospital. Mncono captivated the audience with her youthful energy and presented information about mental illness, substance abuse, stigma and how to help someone in need.
“Part of World Mental Health Day is for us professionals to educate the communities and have a better understanding that at the end of the day. Regardless whether an individual suffers from a mental disorder, you still need to treat them as a human being,” she said.
Mncono gave her presentation in isiXhosa as a way to better engage learners from township schools. “I got very excited at the idea,” she said. “Because in our communities mental health, mental wellness, is not something that is given a lot of attention. It’s not something that is valued. Not because people don’t care, but because they don’t understand.”
Mncono asked learners and community members questions related to the stigma and stereotypes of psychologists and mental illness. “We don’t laugh!” she emphasised, reminding them that it is okay to ask for help and that mental illness is a serious matter.
A short play was also performed at the event, highlighting the effects and dangers of substance abuse, how it manifests in a community and can potentially take a person’s life. Mncono later asked learners about the stressors they face in their everyday lives.
Peer pressure and abuse were some of the reasons young people turned to substances.
“Don’t suffer alone,” she said, discussing the importance of free community resources and the need for parents to be aware of their children’s mental well-being. “There’s so much value in therapeutic health,” said Mncono.
Mncono also provided a comprehensive list of free community mental health resources.
The event closed with a thank you by Mohamed Docrat, Pharmacy Manager for the Department of Health, Makana Sub-District. Docrat thanked the speakers, schools and community members for their participation, and Pick n’ Pay for their support and catering.