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Understanding Mental Health in the Townships

    In the townships of East London, South Africa, a common belief is that counseling is needed only by people with severe mental disorders or those unable to manage stress. Both groups are stigmatized and thought of as weak. Consequently, many pursue life with little or no resources for understanding and managing stress and caring for their mental health. 

    At the same time, access to mental health care is lacking in many of the township communities. The situation is further complicated by extreme poverty, high unemployment, and little hope for resources and opportunity. Our partners at Africa Capacity have been working with formerly incarcerated people in these townships, where 50-70% of those released from the prison system will return to it. This highlights the need for a comprehensive, transformational program for the poor, their spouses, children and host communities. 

    One key part of that transformation is understanding and access to mental health care.

    In April, Tributaries International joined with Africa Capacity to hold a five-day workshop to equip informal service providers for mental health. Dr. Lyn Westman led the training for 83 people, most of whom work for social services, in the townships, and in the prison system. The high turnout revealed the significant need for the program and the desire for learning.

    In the second week, the team conducted a two-day healing workshop for 11 adults living within and around the low-income community (township) of Duncan Village. Most of the participants were experiencing stress because of grief, family concerns, economic issues and other factors. Participants gained a better understanding of stress, trauma, and common mental disorders. There was also a session on understanding children’s behavior and ways to work with the children. The team also started working with several children in a program to address trauma.

    Participants were pleased that the models used in the Westman Framework are easy to use and refer to as they consider the different factors that may be affecting a person’s thoughts and actions. Many commented that they could easily integrate what they learned into their daily work, and several set out to share the models with colleagues. 

    Thanks to your support, the program can achieve what it is designed to do–to empower informal care-providers with the skills needed for efficient, high-volume service, and to lower the stigma surrounding mental health. 

    Thank you for supporting this life-changing work!

    Large group photo of participants