Psychosocial disabilities are the fastest growing public health challenge, affecting over 5 million South Africans. According to the World Health Organization, four of the ten leading causes of disabilities globally is a mental health condition. Yet knowledge of psychosocial disabilities, and the human rights of those affected by them, is alarmingly poor. The result is a continuing marginalization of people with psychosocial disabilities, characterized by stigma, discrimination and a failure to acknowledge their needs for mental health care and reasonable accommodation.
In order to place the focus squarely on the rights of those affected by psychosocial disability, the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC, a centre of the University of Johannesburg) is organizing an interdisciplinary conference entitled ‘The Intersection of Mental Health and Human Right in South Africa’ with a grant from the Medical Research Council of South Africa.
SAIFAC’s director, Professor David Bilchitz explains that ‘The conference will take place during National Disability Rights Awareness Month and we hope in the conference to make some attempt to correct for the neglect often suffered by those with psychosocial disabilities. The conference has been carefully constructed to revolve around four themes – autonomy and legal capacity, vulnerability and protection, access to care and participation – which we hope will capture the numerous rights issues encountered by people affected, either directly or indirectly, by psychosocial disability’.
The conference, which will be held at the Parktonian Hotel in Braamfontein on the 26th of November, will include a keynote address by Indian disability law expert Amita Dhanda and will bring together leading authorities on the subject from civil society, government and academia. It will also traverse the disciplines of law, psychology, public health and psychiatry.
Co-organiser of the event Faraaz Mahomed, a clinical psychologist and human rights researcher, explains further the motivation behind the conference. He states:
‘People with psychosocial disabilities struggle to access employment opportunities, education and adequate health care services. Lack of knowledge relating to mental health and the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities has been identified as one of the most significant barriers to inclusion, with the result that eight out of every ten people with such a disability is unemployed in South Africa, and almost half a million learners with intellectual impairments are out of school. Similarly, severe shortages of skilled personnel such as psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and social workers have been identified, affecting South Africa’s ability to provide health-care for this grouping. The conference aims to examine these issues, paying particular attention to the advancement of human rights.