Coming out of the dark
Activist aims to boost young people’s resilience
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.”