Com­ing out of the dark

Ac­tivist aims to boost young peo­ple’s re­silience

The Independent on Saturday - - METRO - TANYA WATERWORTH tanya.waterworth

AT HER very worst mo­ments, Chantelle Booy­sen who suf­fers from bi-po­lar mood disor­der “felt stuck in a deep black hole that does not present even a crack of light”.

But she fought her way out of the hole and be­came an ac­tivist for men­tal health is­sues, and this week, the 33-year-old rep­re­sented South Africa as part of the Youth Com­mis­sion at the first Global Min­is­te­rial Men­tal Health Sum­mit in Lon­don.

With Oc­to­ber 10 mark­ing World Men­tal Health Day, the theme at the sum­mit was “Young Peo­ple and Men­tal Health in a Chang­ing World”, where the Lancet Com­mis­sion on Global Men­tal Health re­port was pre­sented to the UN.

The re­port said men­tal health dis­or­ders could cost the global econ­omy up to $16 tril­lion (R234 tril­lion) be­tween 2010 and 2030. It stated: “The bur­den of these prob­lems in terms of their di­rect health con­se­quences is very large and in­creas­ing, but their im­pacts on so­cial and eco­nomic well-be­ing, on fam­ily func­tion­ing, and on di­verse sec­tors of so­ci­ety is colos­sal.”

Booy­sen said 60 min­is­ters from across the globe were at­tend­ing the sum­mit, where one of the key is­sues be­ing ad­dressed was that “young peo­ple need to be part of the con­ver­sa­tion”, adding that there has been a “mas­sive in­crease in re­ported statis­tics with sui­cide be­ing the sec­ond lead­ing cause of mor­tal­ity among young peo­ple.”

As part of her ad­vo­cacy, Booy­sen shares her own jour­ney. “I felt lonely, ex­hausted, dis­con­nected, hope­less and in­ad­e­quate. I en­dured a long pe­riod of un­em­ploy­ment, but by seek­ing pro­fes­sional help and treat­ment, I fought my way back to re­gain men­tal well­ness and live a highly func­tional pro­duc­tive life.”

She trained as a vol­un­teer and tele­phonic helpline coun­sel­lor at the SA Anx­i­ety and De­pres­sion Group (Sadag), which has re­cently opened a KwaZulu-Natal branch, is an ad­vi­sory board mem­ber for The Move­ment for Global Men­tal Health and was re­cently se­lected as a South African coun­try rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Global Peer Net­work.

And to main­tain her cur­rent bal­ance, she does a “daily check on my body and mind”, as well as en­sur­ing she takes her pre­scribed med­i­ca­tion and es­sen­tial vi­ta­mins, eat healthily and keeps her­self sur­rounded by sup­port­ive peo­ple.

“I also make a point to switch off for at least 30 min­utes to an hour a day, to re­cal­i­brate and do self-care,” she said. Booy­sen said there was a ma­jor fo­cus on pre­ven­tion so­lu­tions, as well as de­sign­ing ser­vices which in­clude peo­ple with lived ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There is a con­sen­sus that the preva­lence of lone­li­ness and loss of hope has a great im­pact on men­tal health. I be­lieve that in­still­ing a sense of greater pur­pose in chil­dren and young peo­ple could help them nav­i­gate the chal­lenges of life with a sense of bal­ance and pos­i­tive fo­cus that pro­motes men­tal well be­ing,” she said.

Dur­ban clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Sun­tosh Pil­lay, who has set up the Sadag KZN with spe­cial­ist psy­chi­a­trist Su­vira Ram­lall, said that Booy­sen joined their or­gan­i­sa­tion to start a pro­gramme to boost re­silience in young peo­ple strug­gling with emo­tional is­sues.

High­light­ing that Booy­sen rep­re­sented one of four young lead­ers to rep­re­sent the Youth Com­mis­sion at the sum­mit, Pil­lay said, “It is an im­por­tant plat­form to high­light the men­tal health needs of young peo­ple, at­tract global part­ners to in­vest in lo­cal youth men­tal health ed­u­ca­tion and skills devel­op­ment projects.”


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