The SA Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) is a registered national, not for profit, non-governmental organization (000-238 NPO), constituted by 17 Mental Health Societies and 107 Member Organizations, all actively involved in the field of intellectual and psychosocial disability and mental wellbeing. The organization was established in 1920 with the aim to coordinate, monitor and promote services for persons with intellectual and psychosocial disability, as well as promote good mental health and wellbeing amongst the South African public.
The mission of the organization is to actively work with the community to achieve the highest possible level of mental health for all by:
- Enabling people to participate in identifying community mental health needs and responding appropriately
- Developing equal, caring services for people having difficulty coping with everyday life, and those with intellectual and / or psychosocial disability
- Creating public awareness of mental health issues
- Striving for the recognition and protection of the rights of individuals with intellectual and / or psychosocial disability
- Aspiring to contribute to a just and fair society.
The organization’s key areas of work are:
- Capacity Building – as a national organization, it is the organization’s role to capacitate its constituencies with skills, thereby ensuring that services they deliver are of a high standard. This also involves building the capacity of mental health care users and other partner organizations through training initiatives
- Social Integration – this is focused on the integration of persons with intellectual and / or psychosocial disability into society. Due to myths, stigmatization, poverty and the lack of support systems, society in general (including the labor market) is sometimes hesitant in accepting persons with intellectual or psychosocial disability
- Human Rights – the organization monitors services rendered to persons with intellectual and / or psychosocial disability to try and ensure their full integration into society, along with supporting the upholding of their constitutional rights, as enshrined in the Mental Health Care Act of 2002 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- Mental Health Awareness – the organization raises awareness about services rendered by SAFMH and advocates for the rights of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disability. The overall purpose of creating awareness about mental disabilities is to dispel myths and stigma attached to these disabilities, and ultimately to eradicate discrimination. The promotion of mental wellbeing is equally important and focuses on preventative measures through the promotion of healthy lifestyles. As part of this, SAFMH supports World Mental Health Day on the 10th of October annually, as well as other commemorative events, including Intellectual Disability Awareness during March, Psychosocial Disability Awareness during July and mental wellbeing and health promotion and awareness during October.
- Research – is conducted on an ongoing basis on mental health-related issues, both nationally and internationally, to enable SAFMH to effectively function as a mental health information hub and resource centre, along with informing all other areas of focus
- Corporate wellbeing – the organization offers mental health information and awareness sessions to the corporate sector that are customized to suit their needs. Corporate wellness sessions are also a source of income for SAFMH
- Advocacy – is a key focus of SAFMH’s work and cuts across most of the other priority areas. It is a vital part of the organization’s work and an important outcome of most of the work it engages in
The organization’s key areas of focus are extremely integrated and cross-cutting and all form part of the overall aims and objectives of the organisation.
The South African Mental Health Advocacy Movement (SAMHAM) was established by the SA Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) in 2007 in recognition of the importance of giving persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities a voice, and further recognising that they are ultimately the experts in mental health and should thus always be key partners among all stakeholders within the mental health sector. Outside of the mental health field and within communities, persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities must be empowered to participate at all levels of their lives. Prevalence rates of stigma attached to these disabilities are very high (not just in SA, but worldwide), which creates barriers in accessing and enjoying all rights enshrined in the South African Constitution’s Bill of Rights and other relevant policies and legislation such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Persons affected by these “invisible” disabilities however play a crucial role in breaking down these barriers through being empowered and actively engaging with the public and private sectors, and expressing their concerns, needs, challenges and working together to overcome these. Because of their personal experiences, these individuals are also a key source of awareness on mental health, with direct access to and in-depth knowledge about specific communties across South Africa.
People with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities themselves are however yet to effectively communicate and raise awareness of their needs and to self-advocate on all public platforms for their rights to be implemented and their challenges to be addressed. The lack of a strong national self-advocacy movement results in continued social isolation and marginalisation of these individuals. In this way, human rights violations continue unmonitored and ignored, which result in unequal and limited access to resources and protection. These conditions impact directly on the material and lived reality of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.
The Dept of Health’s National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan for 2013-2020 emphasises (in point 7.5 on Advocacy) that there is a commitment from the Dept of Health to (4) “give exposure to positive images of mental health advocates, prominent user role models and well-known and influential champions for mental health in order to change discriminatory attitudes toward mental disability. This work will be framed within the provisions of the UN Convention of the Rights of Disabled Persons and the human rights based framework of South African law, as well as advocacy guidelines from the WHO” and further states (5) “Emphasis will be placed on ensuring representation of people with mental disability on the broader disability agenda, and developing capacity to place mental health user concerns on the political, development and public health agenda”. The goals listed under point 7.5 are set to be achieved by 2015, and it is therefore critical that this be prioritised and that persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities are empowered and able to fully participate within the ambit of these activities and to successfully achieve these goals.
Thus far, few advocacy groups have been established in some provinces, functioning at different levels. However, they very often still lack sufficient capacity to be strong, united and representative voices for persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities at a national level. This is where SAMHAM is of vital importance, as it has an extremely important role to play in the strengthening of existing advocacy groups, the establishment of advocacy groups in parts of the country where such groups are still lacking, whilst at the same time also identifying individuals with leadership potential and developing them into leaders for the mental health movement around which ongoing advocacy and awareness activities can be built.
SAFMH has developed an intensive 4-year strategy for the period 2015/2016 - 2018/2019, to establish strong mental health care user advocacy groups in all 9 provinces of South Africa, with the aim of creating a well-coordinated, effective national advocacy movement through which mental health care users can be empowered and which can be developed into an effective contact-based awareness vehicle. At the centre of the awareness agenda is the need to address stigma and discrimination, and SAMHAM provides an excellent vehicle for addressing this. In the report on the 5th International Stigma Conference, which took place in Canada in June 2012, a number of key messages emerged, which highlighted many of the issues within the international study of stigma and discrimination that needed to be taken forward, amongst others stating that it is important to:
- Include persons with Mental Illness in the designing of services
- Focus on contact-based education (between persons with Mental Illness and persons with stigmatising attitudes)
- Tailor programmes for specific audiences, considering specific cultural and contextual issues
Against this backdrop, SAMHAM provides SAFMH (and South Africa) with the perfect structure to build a responsive mental health advocacy and awareness structure.
As part of the aforementioned strategy, two provinces will be targeted each year, starting with the ones that require more extensive work and concluding with provinces that are already involved in advocacy work and already have functioning advocacy groups in place. The reality is that South Africa has vast distances that need covering, and implementig the SAMHAM strategy over a 4-year period allows for a thorough developmental process.
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