Speaking Matters of Brains in Townships

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The lack of mental health education and awareness is worsening in South African working class townships, because communities are not well exposed to knowledge on the subject. The lack of understanding of underlying issues, often childhood traumas, increases the prevalence of mental health disorders, leading to diagnosis when they are not dealt with. Social issues have an effect on one’s well-being.

The planning of black townships settlements such as Soweto were designed in a way unfit for human development. Instead, they have had a destructive effect on the black African family structure. This has led to the dawn of new structural habits, creating new forms of social issues and reducing productive activities and movement. This environment continues to shape and influence social struggles within the working class.

In this section of the society a big rate of unemployment is concentrated, there is also an increase in criminal activities, abuse of drugs and alcohol consumption. The abuse of children and gender-based-violence, families dependent on breadwinners and some facing constant debts. These issues can create a toxic environment and impact negatively on individuals’ mental state.

In communities like Protea South in Soweto, many people find it difficult to share stories on mental health platforms because they fear that their vulnerability will be exposed. Over the years this phobia developed into a stigma towards mental health. Nokuthula Chabalala, Artist and Dancer at Black Spider Panstsula said, “Trust is what I’m mostly concerned about. What if someone gossips about my problems.” Some people argue that most mental health sessions held in townships are not hosted by professionals in the subject and this makes them skeptical about attending.

Rephethile Kgwale (31) who is a founder of Matters Of The Brain (MOTB) organisation founded in 2018, tackles mental health awareness in townships through awareness programmes. Kgwale was diagnosed with bipolar & anxiety in 2011 and has experienced a couple of mental issues. She feels the need to create a safe space for people, especially the youth, to share their struggles. “We should involve the youth mainly in such topics,” said the 31-year-old, “They are not given an opportunity to express themselves.”

On 23 October 2022, MOTB hosted discussions on mental health awareness at the Protea South Multipurpose Centre. With less than 15 persons attending, the session was dominated by women. The MOTB founder delved deep in her understanding of mental health and sharing her experience with people who attended the session. Kgwale explained how one can be aware if they have mental health problems, giving a contrast between people who often diagnose themselves and why it is important to consult with a psychologist for a personality test.

Being part of various channels of communications such as Khaya FM, 702, ENCA etc in in the period of 2018-2019, Kgwale wants to continue spreading the message. “I want to create opportunities for people who are not getting the space,” said Kgwale. She clarified that most people within townships tend to have little to not interest in such platforms as they are not free. “Money is a problem to pay for a specialist,” said the founder of the MOTB.

One of the participants at the session, Tobatsi Moloi, felt that, the discussion was insightful. He received a lot of information which is helpful. “It is comforting to share mutual experiences with other people,” Moloi said. He added that such movements are important to organise communities, as a lot of people do not have the experience of opening up about their struggles.

Nonhlanhla Makhajane (40), shares on how she wanted to be a psychologist growing up. Despite not having a qualification, she still serves the community on mental health wellness. “I have learned so much in this session,” Nonhlanhla said, “I will implement some of this information in my events.” The 40-year-old indicated that such awareness should be shared widely. “We need to be patient but still continue spreading the awareness.” She added.

This article was submitted on 11 November 2022. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and Karibu! Online (www.Karibu.org.za), and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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