World Suicide Prevention Day | 25 September 2018

World Suicide Prevention Day was marked on 10 September by concerns about growing rates of suicide and the lack of effective suicide prevention strategies not only in South Africa but in many countries around the globe.

In Cape Town, an event at the Silo District in the Waterfront focused on encouraging men to talk more in the belief that “talking saves lives”. According to the World Health Organization rates of suicide have been markedly increasing, especially among men. Symbolically, the speakers sat in barber’s chairs – an allusion to the space created in barber shops where, according to Garron Gsell of the Men’s Foundation,  men “feel free to talk, especially when times gets tough in the confidence that they will be heard “.

Speaking at the event were Daryl Brown, who survived a suicide attempt; Christine Wessels, who lost her partner to suicide and Jonathan Manuel, a social worker from Cape Mental Health..

Darryl Brown told how “overwhelmed by depression that had haunted him since childhood, he decided to end his life in 2013”. He threw himself in front of a train but survived and had to have both his legs amputated.

Christine Wessels, who lost her boyfriend to suicide 9 years ago, spoke about the lasting impact of suicide on those left behind: “I don’t go a day without missing him and wondering if things could have been different”.

Jonathan Manuel said that “men were less likely to speak about their mental health or illnesses due to stigma .

According to Garron Gsell : “Too many men try to deal with challenges on their own and suffer in silence. We’re hoping to show men that talking saves lives”. (Article by Lisa Isaacs: Cape Times, 11 September 2018).


Good News On Alzheimer’s Disease | 25 September 2018

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia. The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease is age with most cases being in people over the age of 65 years old and the risk increasing with age beyond that. With life expectancy increasing, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s Disease has grown considerably, and the fact that there has been no way of halting the condition has been of great concern. It leads not only to the loss of years for the patient but also to the loss of healthy years. For the families and carers, it can be a very demanding journey with impact also on their physical and mental wellbeing.

Recently Dr Stefan Weiss and his team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand announced that they have discovered an antibody that effectively targets the proteins that leads to amyloid-beta plaque formation which severely damages brain cells in Alzheimer’s Disease.

They administered the antibody nasally twice a week for 8 weeks to mice who then showed improvements in memory and cognitive function as a result of a reduction in the formation of amyloid-beta plaque formation. Their study was funded by the SA Medical Research Council and was initiated in 2015.

Dr Weiss and his team are now planning Phase 1 of clinical trials with 30-50 volunteers with Alzheimer’s Disease. The team is hopeful that the administration of this antibody to Alzheimer patients will result in significant improvement of memory and cognitive functioning. If so, they would aim to get regulatory approval for a nasal spray to slow down the progression of this disease that has hitherto been impossible to treat effectively.

*Reference from Cape Times, 4 September 2018 by Valencia Govindasamy. 


Support Cape Mental Health Campaign | 31 July 2018

July is Psychosocial Disability Month. This year Cape Mental Health is marking it by focusing on the stigma attached to mental illnesses and conditions. 

As part of their #breaking the stigma campaign, Cape Mental Health drew attention to the following facts and figures:

– One in four people will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder during their lives (WHO: 2001);

– 25% of all general practitioners’ patients are ill or seek help due to psychiatric rather than medical conditions;

– Almost 20% of high school pupils think about fatally harming themselves;

– Nearly 2/3rds of people with a known mental illness never seek the necessary professional help.

Cape Mental Health has urged government to address “the mediocre focus on mental health'” in South Africa.

It is also challenging each one of us “to become advocates for mental health by #challenging the stigma”.

Ways to do this include educating “yourself to understand psychosocial disabilities and how you can help. You can help those living with a mental disorder through support, sharing your concern and reaching out for professional help’.


*Extracts from Cape Mental Health’s #breaking the stigma with kindness, understanding. Article by Dylan Oktober in Cape Times, Tuesday, July 24, 2018


The Power Of Hope | 23 May 2018

An article by Sheree Bega in the Saturday Weekend Argus of May 12,  2018, highlights the power of hope in healing.

She quotes the views of American oncologist, Dr Jerome Groopman, the Recanati Professor of Immunology at Harvard Medical School, who has extensive experience in caring for patients with cancer, blood diseases, HIV, and Hepatitis C.

He says of hope: “hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see – in the mind’s eye – a path to a better future…clear-eyed, hope gives us the courage to confront our circumstances and the capacity to surmount them”

From the point of view of psychological therapy, hope is regarded as a very important ingredient. Often clients come to therapy when their usual range of coping skills has not helped them sufficiently in dealing with the difficulties they are experiencing.

It is part of the therapist’s role to offer hope and indeed to hold this space for the client until the client can feel it for him/herself. This does not come about by false reassurances but by helping the client to connect with their inner strengths and also to relate to their difficulties in a different way, a way that is empowering. Grootman expresses it thus: “Hope enables you to push forward and through (difficulties)”

What is additionally interesting is that Groopman, who is a scientist, researcher and doctor says that there is in fact “a biology of hope”, that hope has the power to alter our neurochemistry, and affect our physiological as well as psychological processes – all the more reason to work with this critical ingredient in therapy.


Life Esidemeni Arbitration | 6 December 2017

The hearing is investigating the consequences that resulted from the decision of the Gauteng Department of Health to cancel its contract with Life Esidemeni who had been providing long-term, specialized care to severely mentally disabled people for more than 20 years. The Department’s motivation in doing so was to cut costs.

The plan was strongly opposed by practitioners, civil society organizations and families. The Department nevertheless went ahead and even continued to discharge patients after reports that some had died in the NGOs in which they had been placed.

One thousand seven hundred patients (1700) were discharged to NGOs that lacked the capacity to care for them. Their families were not informed where they had been placed and had to search for them. The subsidies were not paid to the NGOs for four months.

One hundred and forty three (143) patients subsequently died of neglect -malnutrition, cold and lack of medication. Some were buried without the knowledge of their families, and some of those who died remain unidentified.

The whereabouts of 59 are unaccounted for.

To this day family members lack.information about exactly how the situation came about and who made the decisions that sent these patients to their deaths.

This is one of the biggest scandals in mental health care in post-apartheid South Africa. Despite a constitution that places a high value on dignity and a progressive Mental Health Care Act that promotes the rights of users and standards and responsibilities in terms of provision of care, treatment and rehabilitation, it takes mental health care practitioners and officials at every level to be committed to the rights and well-being of mental health care users to make this a reality.