The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)

Since its foundation in 1994, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has been Making Mental Health Matter in urban, peri-urban, and rural communities across South Africa. SADAG advocates for the rights of mental health care users, and educates and empowers the public in mental health issues.

Mission statement

SADAG is a registered national, not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation (013-085 NPO) that from its inception 22 years ago has been dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by mental health issues. As South Africa’s leading advocacy and educational voice on mental health, SADAG has been tirelessly committed to improving the mental health and well-being of thousands of South Africans. 

A meeting in Sandton Library in Johannesburg between psychiatrist Prof Michael Berk and SADAG founder Zane Wilson was the beginning of a 22-year journey that has seen SADAG establish itself as among the most formidable grassroots mental health organisations in the country. The dedication, commitment, and belief in SADAG by professionals, support group leaders, patients, and the SADAG team have produced profound results. SADAG fights for the rights of all South Africans to care and adequate treatment, particularly in times of suicide attempts, and is now the most active help line and support network for Bipolar, Depression, Suicide, Schizophrenia, Panic and Anxiety Disorders, and PTSD.

SADAG’s mission is to actively work with all sectors of the community – patients, health professionals, government and other NGOs - to achieve improved education about mental health issues, improved access to treatment and higher levels of treatment compliance, as well as better access to care across all sectors – resulting in improved general mental wellness in South Africa. SADAG has its finger on the pulse of grassroots mental health in South Africa.

Summary of relevant work

15-Line Call Centre

SADAG has a 15-line counselling call centre open 7 days a week, 365 days a year, taking up to 400 calls a day from all provinces, in all languages – ensuring that people in the remotest of areas can access advice, intervention, and support. Half the lines are toll free – a service that is essential for people without the funds to make a call. SADAG also runs the only Suicide Crisis Helpline in the country, as well as an anonymous Helpline for Police and Emergency Staff offering them free counselling, referrals, and support. SADAG trains an average of 250 volunteer counsellors a year for the call centre, and draws on an extensive country-wide referral list of psychiatrists, psychologists and GP’s, trauma centers, NGO associations, and counselling help in urban and rural areas.

“Suicide Shouldn’t Be a Secret” programme

The “Suicide Shouldn’t be a Secret” programme is a one-of-its-kind school-based teen suicide prevention programme that aims to educate teens and their teachers about the warning signs of depression and suicide – and then how to intervene. The power of the programme is that it is presented class by class, Grade by Grade, encourages discussion and interaction and is jargon free. To date, SADAG has delivered the programme to over 1 million learners, teaching youth and teachers that Depression is treatable and Suicide is preventable.

Diepsloot Container Counselling Centre

Diepsloot, a township halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria, is home to a rapidly growing population of over 250,000 people. This population is continually exposed to various types of trauma, as many of the residents are poor and victims of crime, but Diepsloot has only two clinics – and the closest psychiatric facility is over 20kms away. SADAG’s Diepsloot Container Counselling Centre (in partnership with Janssen-Cilag) offers free counselling, referral and support to the residents of Diepsloot as well as working with the community to create awareness around mental health issues.

The Speaking Books

The Speaking Books were developed by SADAG as a low literacy patient education tool. Initially used to raise awareness of teen suicide, the Speaking Books have expanded to all health care sectors (including Teen Suicide Prevention, Getting a Government Grant, TB, Malaria, Safe Sex, and Clinical Trials) to brig education to all people, regardless of their ability to read and write. The books contain culturally appropriate drawings and a panel of 16 buttons, and each button has a 30 or 60-second audio message that follows the written text of each page. The voices used are those of local celebrities, singers, musicians and sportsmen that add appeal to and add to the excitement of the listener. Each book has been shown to reach a minimum of 27 people. The Speaking Books have won SADAG numerous local and international awards due to their strategic communication messages and simplicity of use.

Media Campaigns

Powerful media campaigns designed to destigmatise mental illness and promote mental health are at the forefront of SADAG’s patient advocacy work. In order to achieve this, SADAG runs TV and radio adverts in various languages (over a dozen radio adverts and 8 TV adverts produced to date), sends out weekly press releases to print, radio and electronic media, and runs specific campaigns to raise awareness of various mental health problems. In certain months, SADAG’s media exposure reaches over R6 million in free advertising revenue.


SADAG strives to ensure that people with mental illness, their families and caregivers, employers and health services have access to the support, programmes and resources they need to participate fully in their lives. SADAG works to improve services and supports through advocating and challenging government policies; private industry practices like access to medication, prescribed minimum benefits, and equality of care; and by improving public perception and engagement in issues of mental health through press and media, and public talks and workshops. SADAG has worked to get a number of awareness days permanently fixed to the South African National Health Calendar. This ensures ongoing awareness and education throughout the year. 



Key partners

  • Janssen-Cilag


  • the World Bank Development Marketplace

Seeking collaboration with

Experts by experience/service users
Other organizations
Policy makers


Empowerment and service user involvement
Human rights
Prevention and promotion
Training, education and capacity building
All mental health conditions
Communicable diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS, TB)
Families and carers
Humanitarian and conflict health
Older adults
South Africa