The Free State Provincial Department of Health hosted a mental health and substance abuse awareness campaign in the town of Warden this week.

The theme of campaign, ‘Mental health for all: Greater investment, Greater access,’ brought the global message to the town in the eastern Free State.

“We are treating mental health in our health facilities,” said spokesperson Mondli Mvambi. “We encourage our health professionals to take mental health as a serious illness that deserves attention and not to discriminate against those that suffer from this illness.”

While World Mental Health day is 10 October, Covid-19 regulations delayed the department’s campaign, the province is planning to host services throughout the year.

“We are mindful that lower lockdown levels do not mean lower levels of Covid-19 infections or transmission,” said Mvambi. “We asked people to remain cautious and continue to prevent its spread.”

Community Testimonies

Community members attending the event called attention to drug abuse in the Phumelela municipality.

Mthokozisi Xaba, dropped out of his third year of medical school, due to drug addiction.  He says his seven-year addiction upended his life, but he hopes to seek treatment and return to his studies.

“When I started using drugs I got help to be sent to rehab but when I returned back home I relapsed,” he told Health-e News. “I must say that we drug users are very problematic. I don’t like the life am leading now. if I could get help from the department to send me to a rehab that is far from home so that I can come to my senses and return to school.”

Kate Maseko spoke of the pain of watching her 22-year-old son struggle with nyaope.

“We want our children to better people, the future leaders but the drugs are killing them,” she said.

Another community member, Siyabonga Mqubane, spoke of his own experience of the link between mental health and drug abuse. Mgubane became bipolar and schizophrenic after years of substance abuse. He was hopeful though, saying adhering to his medication has helped him develop a healthy lifestyle.

Health MEC Montseng Tsiu said mental health issues like Mgubane’s are exacerbated by drug and alcohol abuse. This is particularly worsened when mental health disorders, like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety are undiagnosed.

The department hopes interventions like this will help by “increasing life expectancy through health system effectiveness, driving system change and ensuring sustainable quality service.” – Health-e News