11 July 2006

Long way ahead for mental health

July is Psychiatric Disability Awareness month. We take a look at where mental health care is in South Africa.

July is Psychiatric Disability Awareness month. With the promulgation of the Mental Health Care Act (17 of 2002), Cape Mental Health will embark on an awareness campaign that emphasises the importance of Partnerships for Human Rights in Mental Health with the aim of empowering mental health care users to secure their human rights.

In South Africa great strides have been made in policy and legislation to eliminate unfair discrimination and to promote equal opportunities for all, as set out in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Legislation such as the National Integrated Disability Strategy and Employment Equity Act has paved the way to integrate people with disabilities in society. These policies and legislation have formed the bases for forming partnerships, in Cape Mental Health’s quest to advocate on behalf of and to empower people with mental disabilities.

Even with the promulgation of laws and adoption of policies that protect the rights of people with disabilities, the reality indicates that we still have a long way to go before people with disabilities are included in all spheres of society. One example is the Employment Equity Act of 1998 that promotes affirmative action of people with disabilities in the work place. In support of this, government is demanding that two percent of the workforce be people with disabilities. To date less than one percent of the South African workforce is people with disabilities.

Mental health care users have been the victims of discrimination in terms of access to health care services, resources, employment opportunities and society’s prejudices and negative attitudes. It is essential that the mental heath sector works closely with other partners to translate the Mental Health Care Act (17 of 2002) into action in a meaningful way so that the mental health care users enjoy their human rights.

To start off this process, Cape Mental Health’s Social Development Programme and Rainbow Foundation (a community-based psychosocial rehabilitation programme) have partnered with the Mental Health Review Board to educate staff and service users about the Human Rights and Responsibilities of Mental Health Care Users as is entrenched in the Mental Health Care act (17 of 2002) Chapter III.

Partnerships for Human Rights emphasises the importance of partnerships with stakeholders in bridging the gaps between legislation and access to services. The Employment Equity Act No.55 (1998:10) entitles people with disabilities to affirmative measures in the labour market. Further partnerships with the corporate sector to provide employment opportunities for mental health care users are desperately required. Fountain House (SA), a vocational rehabilitation programme, run by Cape Mental Health, provides an Employment Training Programme to empower mental health care users to participate in the open labour market.

For more information about Cape Mental Health’s programmes/ services or exclusive interviews or articles contact Lucinda Pelston at (021) 447 7409 or email:


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