Thursday, October 22, 2020
Health And Welfare

A global crisis and the impact on South African communities


There’s lots of talk about the impact of the global pandemic on mental health; but so far,
little action. There is still no integrated COVID-19 plan to address mental health, along with
prevalent and linked issues such as gender-based violence and food insecurity. While
lockdown levels have eased considerably, we’re far from over grappling with COVID-19.
Economic consequences are still unfolding, and worsening. Fear, stress, anxiety,
depression, trauma and grief will continue to dominate in our emotional landscape for the
foreseeable future.

Dr Gordon Isaacs, who holds a PhD in Social Work and has had an esteemed 50-year
career which has included opening the first Crisis Clinic in Africa; pioneering mental health
work in the field of HIV and Aids and playing a founding role in initiatives such as the
Triangle Project, NAPWA and SWEAT, says, “The current mental healthcare landscape is
sadly bankrupt, both in terms of service delivery and fiscally. This year, COVID-19 has
superseded most psycho-social and mental healthcare needs; as if you can separate
mental health from physical health. With only 5% of Treasury monies allocated to the
health budget going to mental healthcare, and the dire economic strains we are
experiencing; we urgently need mental healthcare in the time of COVID to become a
national priority.”

Dr Isaacs will join doctoral candidate at Nelson Mandela University, Thelma Oppelt, on the
expert panel of the SACAP (the South African College of Applied Psychology) webinar A
global crisis and the impact on South African communities on Thursday, 1 October
from 18h00 to 19h00.

The severe shortfalls in mental healthcare in South Africa are far from new. We’ve battled
with high rates of mental illness; lack of funding; outdated treatment models and a sparse
workforce for many decades. We’ve normalised the outcomes of this in our tacit acceptance
of being a society with abnormally high rates of crime, gender-based violence, domestic
abuse, child abuse and substance abuse. The COVID crisis gives us a unique opportunity
to say: ‘No more!’ and implement new and different solutions that can improve well-being
across diverse communities.

Through its Masters of Social Work in Community Mental Health Promotion, SACAP is leading the way in educating SA social innovators to address community mental health
challenges in more effective ways. They use the theoretical framework of Community
Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) to build the competencies of strategic
leaders who are adept at consulting with communities to identify issues and implement
unique initiatives. Oppelt says, “The pandemic has forced us into unchartered waters, but it

also presents opportunities to address some of the existing inequalities and make the
silenced voices in our society heard. CBPAR aims to do the same. SACAP’s MSocSci
equips students to fully participate in a new paradigm where community buy-in sets the
stage. Communities are well aware of their vulnerabilities and marginalisation. It’s the work
of today’s community mental health worker not to prescribe and intervene but to listen, and
then innovate and act in accordance with the community’s stated goals.”

As is the nature of world crises, the global pandemic will usher in long-lasting changes in
societies around the world. We have the power to shape these changes through our focus
and our inspiration for a better life for all.

Register today for SACAP’s webinar A global crisis and the impact on South African communities on Thursday, 1 October from 18h00 to 19h00.

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