SAfAIDS Statement on World Mental Health Day
10 October 2019
“The stigma and shame surrounding mental health continues to deter many of us in the development sector from boldly addressing it. For SRH outcomes to be sustained, psychosocial well-being, affirming dignity for persons with mental health challenges and policy advocacy to destigmatise mental health issues, is imperative to the human and social development we aspire for in our region.” Ms Rouzeh Eghtessadi, SAfAIDS Acting Executive Director.
Today marks World Mental Health Day with an emphasis on “Suicide Prevention”. The day was first commemorated in 1992 as part of an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health; seeks to raise awareness on mental health issues and mobilise efforts to support mental health. This year, suicide prevention is the key focus to the commemoration.
According to WHO (2019), almost every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide1. These statistics highlight the manifestation of mental disorders as not discriminatory but affecting an alarming number of people across a wide range of demographics; transcending cultural, age, ethnical, racial and gender barriers. Suicide is a global health problem and a main causes of death among young people, especially adolescents and young people aged between 15-29 years2. Up to two in every ten adolescents worldwide suffer from mental disorders, with half of them experiencing their first symptoms during their transitional stage from late childhood into early teen years and adolescence. Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) challenges such as sexual gender based violence, early and unintended pregnancies as well as unsafe abortions can lead directly to a retreat from social life, high levels of stress and anxiety, possible sleep and eating disorders, and deterioration to performance at school or at work. In the long term, this leads to self-harm, suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide. Limited information and acknowledgement of these links hamper progress in effectively advancing meaningful change in both areas; in a manner that is not only holistic but deliberately merges discourse on SRHR and Mental Health.
As this Day is commemorated, there is a need to highlight the lived experiences of our young people. We acknowledge that the lack of acceptance of young people living with HIV and young LGBTQI+ persons continues to place them at risk of developing mental disorders. We also acknowledge that those who do not receive requisite support are more likely to partake in substance abuse and attempted suicides. The intersection of SRHR and mental health illustrates the need to adopt a holistic approach to effectively advocating optimal sexual and reproductive health outcomes.
SAfAIDS joins like-minded stakeholders in observing this Day; and reaffirms commitment to well-rounded health-developmental programming for beneficiaries across Southern Africa, which includes interventions promoting mental health. SAfAIDS continues to build the capacity of adolescents and young people on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, through establishments of Adolescent Clinics, Resource Centres, 72 hour GBV Rooms and training of Youth Peer Educators in Eswatini Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These youth friendly approaches provide comprehensive SRHR information, counselling, education and mentorship, and supportive safe spaces for young people to share and address psychosocial challenges they face around their SRH choices.
Today we celebrate the brave individuals who have won the battle against mental health challenges and disorders, and those who stood by them, as well as the milestones made in field of research, testing and treatment, leading to the increasing discourse on mental health in the public health sector across SADC.