To wrap up Mental Health Awareness Month, we honour a few of our mental health heroes – five Discovery Foundation Awards alumni and one supervisor whose positive contribution to mental healthcare has had a ripple effect across South Africa.
Each year, the Discovery Foundation gives five different awards to outstanding individual and institutional awardees in the public healthcare sector – including mental healthcare.
To show the ripple effect these awardees have had on their communities, we profiled six mental health heroes who are striving to make our country a better place.
Professor Renata Schoeman drives ADHD awareness
In 2017, Discovery Foundation 2006 alumnus Professor Renata Schoeman co-founded the Goldilocks and the Bear Foundation with entrepreneur Nic de Beer.
The Foundation’s mission is to make sure that all children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other mental health barriers to education have the necessary support to reach their full potential. It provides screening services for the early identification of children with ADHD, other mental health disorders and learning difficulties. So far, the Foundation has:
- Visited 26 schools
- Brought mental health services to 21 781 children
- Screened 1 020 children
- Identified 419 children with ADHD and
- Diagnosed 78 children with anxiety disorder and depression.
“I hope for an environment where every child can develop to their full potential, and where adults can flourish into leaders. We need to have conversations about mental health as frequently as possible, in as many environments as possible, and on as many platforms as possible.”
Professor John Joska helps Discovery Foundation build leaders
Professor John Joska, although not a Discovery Foundation award recipient himself, has been instrumental in supervising our mental health sub-specialists:
- Professor Jackie Hoare (2010/11)
- Dr Carla Freeman (2012/13)
- Dr Engelina Groenewald (2013/14)
- Dr Lindokuhle Thela (2017/18)
“They are all now neuropsychiatrists playing a role in healthcare settings across South Africa,” he says.
Professor Jackie Hoare addresses stigma within healthcare services
“Mental health services for adolescents living with HIV are vital to fight the battle against HIV and AIDS,” says Professor Jackie Hoare. “We need a stronger understanding of stigma within healthcare contexts among adolescents living with chronic illnesses.”
Prof Hoare received a Discovery Foundation Academic Fellowship in 2008 and was supervised by Prof Joska. “This fantastic award provided me with funding and time to be the first MPhil candidate in Neuropsychiatry in South Africa and laid the foundation for all subsequent research,” she says.
Professor Rita Thom – mental health is fundamental to general health
There is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental illness,” says Professor Rita Thom. In 2010, she received a Rural Distinguished Visitor Award to provide mental health support to generalist healthcare providers in the North West and Mpumalanga.
“There is marked inequity in access to mental healthcare across the country, with the poor in rural areas having the least access. There is a lack of understanding and implementation at many levels regarding the most appropriate interventions for improving mental wellbeing and treating mental disorders.”
Professor Christoffel Grobler supports mental health in the workplace
Professor Christoffel Grobler says to improve the mental health of more South Africans, we need to normalise the conversation in the workplace about mental illness.
His hopes for the future of mental healthcare in South Africa? “That employers will be much more aware of the extent of mental illness and the numbers of their employees suffering from mental illness statistically. Employers need to become part of the solution – at present they are part of the problem.”
Dr Michele Parker takes care of the elderly’s mental health
In 2016, Dr Michele Tracy Parker received a Discovery Foundation Sub-Specialist Award to study Geriatric Psychiatry through the University of Stellenbosch and the Colleges of Medicines of South Africa. At present, there are no more than five registered sub-specialists in South Africa in psychiatry of the elderly.
“I am particularly interested in the mental health needs of the elderly. South Africa is one of the most rapidly aging countries in Africa. By 2030 there will be seven million people over the age of 60,” she says. “People are living longer and that makes them increasingly vulnerable to the common mental illnesses associated with old age, such as dementia.”
About the Discovery Foundation
Each year, the Discovery Foundation gives five different awards to outstanding individual and institutional awardees in the public healthcare sector.
The Discovery Foundation is an independent trust with a clear focus to strengthen the healthcare system by ensuring that more people have access to specialised healthcare services.
Since 2006, the Discovery Foundation has invested more than R230 million in training and support for more than 400 medical specialists and institutions. The grants support academic research and clinical science, sub-specialist training, rural medicine as well as programmes to develop public healthcare resources. For 2019, Discovery Foundation awarded 42 grants to medical specialists working in South Africa’s healthcare sector to the value of R27 million.
Psychiatric registrar Dr Carmenita Groves says her analysis of arguably the largest cohort of patients diagnosed with catatonia in South Africa, observing their presentation, management and outcomes, is already boosting referrals at Dora Nginza Hospital.
Dr Nokwazi Mtshengu’s Discovery Fellowship Award is helping her translate to isiXhosa a globally accredited psychiatric tool to assess postpartum depression, which will benefit depressed mothers, the infant, family and broader community.
Megan Schultz’s research on the nutritional state of mentally ill patients could significantly improve the lives of many people, especially if bolstered by evidence-based policies and changes in nutrition-related laws.