eHealth News, South Africa

New Online Portal to Support SA’s Mentally Ill

A new online platform, called Let’s Talk, has been launched to break the stigma around mental illness and to make treatment more accessible.

Mental Illness - EHN

A new online platform, called Let’s Talk, has been launched by Pharma Dynamics to break the stigma around mental illness and to make treatment more accessible to the mentally ill.

Mental Health Portfolio Manager at Pharma Dynamics, Shouqat Mugjenker, says there is a dire need for digital interventions in this space since the country’s mental healthcare system is falling short.

“In many cultures, mental illness remains a taboo subject and the shame associated with these conditions often derails any attempt to seek help. Even when people reach out, family or friends may respond with disinterest or rejection due to lack of understanding. Our platform plays a critical role in connecting sufferers with a community of medical professionals, which include psychiatrists, psychologists and nutritionists, along with fellow patients whom they can relate to and draw strength from,” said Mugjenker.

“According to statistics released in 2012, the ratio of practicing psychiatrists in the country is one to every 150,000 mentally ill patients, which means very few are likely to see a psychiatrist. SA simply lacks the infrastructure and resources to appropriately care for the mentally ill – hence Pharma Dynamics’ mission to make mental healthcare more accessible, affordable and acceptable through technology,” continued Mugjenker.

An estimated one in six South Africans suffers from depression and 20% of the population will at some point in their lives experience some form of depressive disorder. The social impact of these conditions is also of major concern. More than 17% of sufferers cannot take care of dependents, 26% are separated or divorced, 47% lose their friends as a result of illness and 49% experience negative family relationships, which doesn’t leave much of a support network.

In contrast, the Let’s Talk portal encourages individuals to open up and share their struggles with mental illness in a safe space, where trained psychiatrists offer support and encourage sufferers to take an active step in their own recovery via psychotherapy in the form of videos and webinars; goal-setting; advice about medication and alternative therapy options; educational literature; and nutrition and exercise.

Mugjenker says often sufferers only focus on one form of treatment, but it’s really a combination of therapies that are necessary, of which a healthy diet plays an important role.

“Sufferers can benefit from including natural, mood-enhancing foods as part of their daily meal plan – especially foods that have been scientifically linked to improved mental health. The Let’s Talk platform lists a monthly mood-boosting recipe that has been especially developed for those suffering from mental illness. These recipes are all easy to follow, won’t take longer than 30 minutes to prepare, are delicious and affordable,” said Mugjenker.

Unlike other social media sites where people tend to only post about the positive aspects of their lives, the platform demands honesty. “We want people to share from the heart. No change can come about if people hide behind masks,” said Mugjenker.

Celebrities that seemingly live a life of happiness devoid of strife also share their battles with mental illness on the platform in an effort to motivate others to follow suit. Some of the famous personalities include Vuyelwa Booi (7de Laan’s Alice) who shares her own battle with depression, while Sade Giliberti (actress, TV presenter and voice-over artist) reveals what helps her to overcome feelings of despair.

“People from all walks of life are affected by poor mental health and we believe that the platform will boost access to support and services, including new ways of talking about the issue,” said Mugjenker.

For more info on Pharma Dynamics’ Let’s Talk campaign, visit www.letstalkmh.co.za or contact their toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counsellors who are on call from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.

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