Why Mental Health Matters


Vanessa Carter
2 May 2018
20:30 SAST | 14:30 EST
How to participate

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Start your answers with T1, T2, T3, T4 or CT for transcript purposes.
Answer only after the moderator prompts. Questions will be prompted every 10 minutes, but keep answers coming using the relevant T and number. Both panel experts and public attendees are encouraged to participate.
Use the #hcsmSA hashtag in all tweets so you are visible to others in the chat.

T1: Which conditions fall under the umbrella of mental health?
 Which issues do you think currently affect mental health patients?
T3: What concerns or hopes do you have about innovation for mental health?
T4: Which digital technologies do you think could empower mental health patients? How or why?
T5: How can local strengths be leveraged to develop effective mental health interventions?

CT (Closing Thoughts): Is there anything you feel is important to add to this conversation?

Join us for a 60-minute Twitter chat with our panel experts. All stakeholders locally and globally are welcome. The public transcript will be recorded by Symplur.

How is a Mental Illness Defined?
Most people believe that mental disorders are rare and “happen to someone else.” In fact, mental disorders are common and widespread. The WHO defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. [1][2] Mental disorders include Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia and other psychoses, Dementia, Intellectual Disabilities and Developmental Disorders including Autism, Alcohol or Substance Addiction, Anxiety, Epilepsy, Insomnia Disorder, ADHD, Parkinson’s Disease and even Gaming Addiction which the World Health Organisation recently included in their 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
A more extensive list of mental health conditions can be read here by founder & CEO of Psych Central, Dr John Grohol.

No one in their lifetime is exempt, whether they themselves suffer from a mental health condition or know a friend or family member who has. I myself suffer from Depression, my son has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and another family member has Bipolar Disorder. I can easily list several more.

Why is Mental Health Important to Economic Development?
In a 2016 study of eight countries spanning diverse cultures and gross domestic product (GDP) ranges, Dr Sara Evans-Lacko and Prof Martin Knapp from the London School of Economics and Political Science reported that depression alone was collectively costing the nations of Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, South Africa and the US more than $246-billion a year. In that study, nearly twice as many South African employees reported a previous diagnosis of depression (25.6%) in comparison with the average (15.7%) reported across these countries. This is in line with a previous South African study by Prof Crick Lund and others that found mental health problems affected one in four South Africans – with only 15%–25% of affected individuals seeking and receiving help. [3]

World Mental Health demonstrates clearly that there is only a false dichotomy between the complementary social goods of economic development on the one hand and the well being of individuals and communities on the other. We need to have a vision of development which acknowledges the importance of economic growth, but which also takes seriously the idea that, in the long run, it is only healthy populations that have the opportunity to be economically productive. Simply put, “health,” either physical or mental, is not formally equivalent to a luxury item, something to be “afforded” when a society has generated enough “wealth” to pay for it. Health is, instead, an on-going positive engagement between individuals, communities, the environment, the state, and the world at large.

Mental Health and Patient-Centered Digital Innovation
Given all of these issues that seriously impact mental health patients and the economy at large, is it possible for emerging technologies to play a role? Promising tech like telemedicine, virtual reality, games for health, mobile applications, social media and the web, online patient communities, wearables and Electronic Health Records (EHR) to name a few have been reported to hold major promise for mental health patients. Technology, however, won’t be the sole answer, setting the digital hype aside for a minute, community assistance will still be necessary bearing in mind the recent lessons learned from the Life Esidemeni tragedy where over 140 patients died from neglect. If technology could intervene, and using this as a serious lesson, what should IT developers or designers also do to ensure that these digital innovations truly do empower mental health patients safely? Second, can these technologies perhaps be used in other ways, such as to improve capacity building through e-Learning?

Depending on the mental condition, it will be vital to understanding the patient experience and design solutions that are empathetic to their needs. For example, in the past, mental hospitals were designed as asylums with stark colours and stifling spaces to control patient behaviour, but patient conditions were often worsened by this environment. Today, as the outcry to end stigma for patients increases, mental health facility design isn’t just about safety—it’s also about offering comfort through the design itself. Balancing these two objectives is considered critical for patient wellbeing. [4] This is where the practice of Human-Centered Design (HCD) and User-Centered Design (UCD) may be critical to ensure that technology follows the same path. Especially in a tech-saturated world where it has also been suggested can add to this burden of mental well-being for its users.[5]

Mental Health and Sustainable Development
WHO’s comprehensive mental health action plan 2013-2020 was adopted by the 66th World Health Assembly. Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General, described the new Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2020 as a landmark achievement: it focuses international attention on a long-neglected problem and is firmly rooted in the principles of human rights. The action plan calls for changes. It calls for a change in the attitudes that perpetuate stigma and discrimination that have isolated people since ancient times, and it calls for an expansion of services in order to promote greater efficiency in the use of resources.[6] The inclusion of mental health and substance abuse was also adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 in the Sustainable Development Agenda. [7] What could the way forward be for South Africa?



  1. Mental health: a state of well-being, World Health Organisation, August 2014
  2. WHO: 10 Facts on Mental Health, World Health Organisation
  3. Mental health problems cost SA’s economy billions per year, Financial Mail, August 2017
  4. Behavioural Health Design: Balancing Safety and Empathy, A Light of Wellness, September 2017
  5. The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World, Pew Research Centre, 17 April 2018
  6. Comprehensive mental health action plan 2013–2020, World Health Organisation
  7. Mental health included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, World Health Organisation


The chat session is open to everyone to participate, however, our panel experts bring a unique set of perspectives relating to the topic.

Dr John Grohol
John M. Grohol, Psy.D. is the founder & CEO of PsychCentral.com, a psychologist, mental health and human behaviour/technology expert, co-author of Self-Help That Works, author of The Insider’s Guide to Mental Health Resources Online, and a published researcher.He sits on the scientific board of the journal, Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member and current treasurer of the Society for Participatory Medicine. Since 1995, he has overseen PsychCentral.com, the world’s leading mental health site offering information, resources, and over 250 support groups to over 7 million people each month.

Charlene Sunkel 
Charlene is the Principal Coordinator for the Movement for Global Mental Health as well as Founder of the Global Mental Health Peer Network. Additionally, she serves as the Programme Manager for Advocacy and Development at the South African Federation for Mental Health.



André van Zyl
André is a public health professional with a keen interest in the use of technology in health service provision. He believes that technology could be used to achieve health for all by, making education more accessible and affordable, improving population-wide health communication, mobilising health resources, and by ensuring efficient resource utilisation. His academic career started with studying psychology and sociology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). He obtained his Master’s in Public Health (MPH) degree at the University of Pretoria.

In 2016, he started the Health Information and Technology Special Interest Group (HIT SIG) under the umbrella of the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA). He is currently serving on the executive committee of the PHASA and is chairing the Special Interest Groups Committee. André is employed at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) as a data manager on a research project. He would like to continue with research on using mobile technology to promote maternal and child mental health.

Kobby Blay
Kobby Blay, (Kelvin Odonkor) is a mental health practitioner with a special interest in public health, communications, ICT’s and system design. He is also the founder of Ghana Health Nest (GHN) which is a non-profit information and digital health innovation agency.

Kobby is a multiple award-winning health blogger and inarguably a leading voice for digital health in Ghana. He currently also serves under the Ghana Ministry of Health and related services. As founder of #hcsmGH, Kobby Blay is an avid healthcare social media (hcsm) medical educator, content developer and strategist. Kobby further enjoys photography and uses his creative talent to share personal stories about Ghana health across multiple online platforms.

jamieProf. Jamie Saris – 
Dr Saris is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, National University of Ireland (Maynooth). He holds advanced degrees in Social-Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago (MA and PhD), and he has completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Clinically-Relevant Medical Anthropology in the Department of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School (1992-1994). He has been working for more than fifteen years in medical and psychological anthropology in Ireland, North America, and parts of Africa, where he has researched and published on such diverse issues as the social life of mental hospitals, the experience of major mental illness, colonialism and its aftermath, poverty and structural violence, drug abuse, and HIV risk and treatment. He was also formerly the Deputy Director of NIRSA (National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis).

Shaun J. Nortjé
Shaun is an MSc Psychology student with doctoral preparation. He has experience in
leadership where he held various positions such as Humanities Faculty Student Executive at
The University of Pretoria, Student research Executive and Chairperson of the National Student
Psychology division. He is also the founder of the emerging Youth Mental Health Association of
South Africa. He currently collaborates with a Child welfare organisation in trauma training – that seeks to structurally support orphans and vulnerable children. He enjoys books, coffee and longs walks on the beach. Interests in student mental health, community psychology, cyber-counselling, philosophy of mind and trauma.

Gabrielle Lobban 
Gabrielle is a health technology professional with over 24 years of experience as a medical marketing executive. She is currently the business director of Zumbudda which is a digital communication platform for healthcare that provides its users with real-time expert advice.



Nicky Fernandes
Nicky is the director of the Little Gems Special Needs School in Midrand, Gauteng which offers residential and respite care as well as education and rehabilitation to children and young adults with special needs. Their children’s needs range from Autism, ASD, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome and other broader conditions. Nicky holds a B.A in Education, Psychology and Criminology and in the past was also an Educator at the Mitchell House Preparatory School, Thandabantu Academy and PEPPS Polokwane. He is currently also chairperson of Erudite Projects. Although Little Gems is a private facility, they are always in need of sponsorship especially for the young children who are enrolled as orphans. Waiting lists for children who have mental health disabilities range from 1-6 years in different provinces in South Africa, some children don’t receive placement at all. Little Gems are one of the only NGO facilities in Gauteng working to close this gap.

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