The DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS) observed World Mental Health Day on the Westville campus with an event aimed at raising awareness about suicide prevention, which included an input from psychologists, traditional health practitioners, staff, students and members of the community.
A presentation by UKZN’s Ms Londiwe Cele – titled Ubuntu and Mental Healthcare: The Power of Social Integration – examined key principles of Ubuntu including resilience, mutual support and unity, caring, respect and dignity. ‘In an Ubuntu community, a person with mental illness is accepted and embedded safely within the family and community through singing, working, traditional dancing, storytelling, celebrating, preforming rituals and community living,’ said Cele.
Dialogue among participants highlighted the importance of a sense of community when dealing with mental health issues. The social values of resilience, mutual support (solidarity), caring, respect, and dignity, in Ubuntu philosophy, were cited as critical in restoring social morality and to mitigate against suicidal tendencies in rural and urban communities.’ Traditional health practitioner TDr Zabalazile (Makhosi) Makhoba said finding the source of a mental illness was important when treating mental illness. ‘In most cases you find that the cause is of a spiritual nature,’ said Makhoba. ‘Mental disorders may also be a case of wrong identity and incorrect use of surnames.’ Makhoba listed abuse, stress and anxiety, isolation and substance abuse as possible sources of mental disorders. IK-holders and practitioners said mental disorders were considered as life disorders within the African holistic perspective of mental healthcare and wellbeing.
CIKS Research Manager Dr Mayashree Chinsamy indicated that the Centre had identified the significance of such culturally-based approaches through the partnership with IK-holders and practitioners, and hence a research platform on IKS and Mental Healthcare had been established.
Dialogues and exhibitions like the current event were part of platform activities to improve knowledge, awareness and understanding of IKS-based worldviews and ways of knowing and values systems associated with mental wellbeing in culturally and ecologically specific communities. The knowledge exchange platform is also meant to facilitate partnerships between conventional and traditional mental healthcare practitioners for bidirectional knowledge transfer and improved service quality in the mental healthcare sector. The exhibition showcased a range of IKS-based mental healthcare research areas, upcoming international knowledge brokerage platforms, professional and family support associations, state of mental health policymaking and journals.
NRF intern in the Department of Occupational Therapy, Ms Nokwanda Khanyile highlighted stigma and a lack of awareness of mental health, saying: ‘There is a lot of stigma around mental health… in an African context, all types of depression, like postpartum depression is still very foreign.’
Mr Simphiwe Simamane of the eThekwini Municipality shared his depression experiences, emphasising the importance of talking to someone and paying attention to the possible signs of depression, including neck pains, anger, negativity and insomnia. ‘Live your life – make an impact where you can and always have Ubuntu,’ he said.
UKZN’s Ms Lori Barausse started a suicide prevention and family support group, Survivors of Loved Ones of Suicide (SOLOS), when she lost a loved one to suicide 10 years ago. ‘The stigma attached to mental illness is still huge in this country and around the world,’ said Barausse. ‘It’s still the Cinderella of all illnesses – people with cancer or diabetes are treated in a different way to people who have mental illness and depression, simply because you can’t physically see depression.’
She said that communication was vitality important and encouraged everyone to be familiar with the warning signs of a possible suicide. ‘Suicide is 100 % preventable – speak out, reach out!’ she said. Visit http://www.survivorsofsuicide.co.za/ and http://www.sadag.org/ for more information.
Participants concurred on the inclusion of value systems such as Ubuntu in the education system from early childhood development level and for them to become a culturally acceptable suicide prevention strategy. The event concluded with participants sharing the following “take home messages”: (1) social integration includes collaboration and unity between conventional and traditional practitioners and across sectors, (2) mutual support can be achieved through promotion of oral traditions to bridge the intergenerational gap in the lived mental health experience of elders and the youth; (3) the complementarity of knowledge systems promotes respect and dignity of different worldviews as well as knowledge and awareness of culturally diverse pathways of support; and (4) ongoing dialogue is necessary to devise culturally appropriate coping mechanisms for those affected by mental illnesses.
Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer
Photograph: Albert Hirasen