Fort Napier and Town Hill Hospitals’ hosted their historic 20th Annual Mental Health Day Symposium on 11th October at the Iris Marwick College (Town Hill Hospital) in commemoration of World Mental Health Day. Twenty years ago, in October 1998, Professor Anthony Pillay and Ms Carol Ann Sargent organised the first symposium, with much trepidation. In the years between 1998 and 2018, many dedicated psychologists have contributed to this symposium, bringing their expertise and unique refinements each year. This 20th symposium allowed us to pause and give thanks to the psychology staff (both past and present) under the unwavering and dedicated leadership of Professor Anthony Pillay.

The World Federation for Mental Health theme for mental health day this year is “Young people and mental health in a changing world “, we know that the development and onset of depression, suicide and many other mental health concerns is largely within the school age period. Young people today face enormous challenges, including exposure to contexts of violence, poverty, substance use, marginalisation and conflict, as well as the stressors brought about by being constantly “plugged in” to social platforms. This undoubtedly contributes to significant mental health problems in young people, especially when we consider that a large proportion of those under 19 years of age live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This presents us as mental health professionals with a golden opportunity to intervene, and we know that the earlier we intervene, the more effective our efforts will be. Now we need to redouble our efforts to assist young people to build resilience through the development of coping skills, interpersonal skills and problem-solving skills in order to equip them to deal with the stressors they face.

The 20th Annual Mental health Symposium boasted a range of well-respected academics and practitioners delivering papers. Professor Shannon Hoctor presented a thought-provoking paper titled “Non-pathological incapacity relating to provocation or emotional stress”. Dylan Evans highlighted ethical issues in the use of online technology for the provision of psychological services. Professor Bonga Chiliza concluded the informative first session with a presentation titled “Early intervention in mental health in South Africa: A pie in the sky?”

The second session commenced with an enlightening presentation by Professor Basil Pillay titled “Equipping youth for a changing world”.  Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize captivated delegates with a presentation on African-centred psychology and its relevance to youth concerns in the 21st century. Finally, Professor Anthony Pillay concluded the symposium with a provocative presentation titled “Rethinking professional & social responsibility in the mental health disciplines”.

The psychology sections of Town Hill and Fort Napier Hospitals would like to thank their institutional managements and the Iris Marwick College for their ongoing support of the event, the speakers, for sharing their wisdom, as well as the delegates – many of whom attend the event on a yearly basis. We would like to extend our warm thanks to the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) and the Executive Director (Ms Fatima Seedat) for the generous support and sponsorship of the function. PsySSA continues to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to psychology, mental health promotion and social justice both nationally and globally.

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