Despite wet and windy weather conditions, 850 people turned up to support the KZN Mental Health Advocacy Walk last Sunday, ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10.
Many familiar PsySSA faces also belonged to the main organizing committee of the KwaZulu-Natal Mental Health Advocacy Group, under whose auspices the walk is hosted. They include Suntosh Pillay, co-founder of the Advocacy Group and executive member of the PsySSA Community and Social Psychology Division; Lynne Richards, who managed the walk’s logistics with the eThekwini Municipality, and is the chairperson of the PsySSA Trauma and Violence Division; and Rivendri Govender, who ensured that over 30 organisations attended the related Wellness Fair, and is the Secretary of the Society for Educational Psychology of South Africa (SEPSA) with Professor Suvira Ramlall, a psychiatrist who co-founded of the event with Pillay, this small team pulled of another well-attended walk for the eight year running.
Pillay says that the 5km walk “continues to grow every year as the flagship community-driven mental health event in the province, if not the country. We are probably the biggest, free, mental health walk in South Africa right now.” People came from all corners of KZN, including Chatsworth, the South Coast, Madadeni and Pietermaritzburg, and brought placards and posters to voice their slogans. The SABC, Isolezwe, and local newspapers all supported the walk with media coverage. Govender said a walk is a fun and interactive way to get people to engage with the topic of mental health “which people shy away from”. “We are encouraging people to take a stand against the stigma.” Richards agrees. “Annually, the walks brings together individuals from diverse backgrounds to advocate together. It is a wonderful day filled with activities, such as yoga and aerobics.”
The theme for #WMHD 2023 is “Mental health is a universal human right”. Pillay said this topic is especially pertinent given the current debates about National Health Insurance (NHI) in South Africa and the best way to achieve universal health coverage. “NHI is one option; but whatever funding mechanism we use to gain equity of access to healthcare, psychosocial services must be included from the outset. There is no debate that psychology professionals are an essential service,” said Pillay.
The related wellness fair at the North Beach amphitheater had 30 organisations to interact with the public, including the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Refugee Social Services, the Durban Book Fair, the Mum’s Support Network, Mondia Health, Medis Medical Software, the KZN Department of Health, Akeso, and Joint Medical Holdings.
Pierre Buckley, from the Global Interfaith Network (GIN), joined as an LGBTQ+ activist. “GIN understands the importance of wellbeing in its entirely,” said Buckley. “Being present and supporting the walk adds our voice and presence to support the urgency to address mental wellness in society. This was a meaningful event.”
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Photo credits: Vijay Ramballie.