Last week I was invited by RMB, one of our long-standing partners, to visit Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital (formerly known as the Joburg Gen). The company has committed to planting a garden in front of the particularly bleak entrance to the megalithic architectural eyesore – which looks more like a prison than a hospital.

I, of course, chirped (in my own cynical way) that I hope there’s a plan for picking up all the stompies and empty take-away packets once the garden is complete. I was brought down to earth sharply but gently by the head gardener, who quietly remarked that the garden would be a really good place for the hospital’s mental health patients to spend time every day, just to be somewhere beautiful.

And so, with my foot firmly in my mouth, I looked around and saw people milling about, sitting on kerbstones and bollards, waiting for… news? loved ones? medication? You can’t know everyone’s story, but hanging about outside Charlotte Maxeke (which I – again, cynically – shorten to “C-Max” in my notes) can’t be for a happy reason.

This rather bleak piece of land at the entrance to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg will soon be transformed by RMB into a beautiful garden – a space for reflection and recovery

And then I started thinking about the plight of the mental health patients, stuck inside this labyrinth – in pain? on edge? in a state of confusion? – and realised that the garden will be a welcome addition to the hospital. And that if people go there to smoke, or reflect, or find some calm, it’s all good.

As I drove home I thought about mental health in general. About my own battles with depression and anxiety and how privileged I am to be receiving specialist treatment. I thought about those I have known who’ve lost the battle with mental health and the pain it caused their loved ones; I thought about those I know who continue to fight and receive help; and I thought about those who have limited access to help, and the suffering they are likely to be going through.

Isn’t it interesting how life works sometimes? The same day I visited C-Max I received an email about a campaign being run by the South African Federation for Mental Health – a national non-profit organisation that serves to “… empower mental health care users and mental health organisations nationwide, advocate for the human rights of mental health care users, develop and disseminate credible mental health information and create much needed awareness of mental health so as to reduce stigma and discrimination towards mental health care users.”

The campaign, which is called “Mind the Gap”, encourages South Africans to change our ingrained Covid-19 mindset from one of “social distancing” to one of “physical distancing and social solidarity”.

The campaign is being championed by influencers and celebrities around the country, including our own Carel Nolte. Here’s his video:

SAFMH works with 17 independent organisations that provide direct community based mental health services to marginalised communities. These services include counselling, skills development, statutory intervention, residential care, and psycho-social rehabilitation services, day-care for persons with intellectual disability, mental health awareness raising programmes using various social media platforms as well as food and nutrition provision.

Since the lockdown in March 2020, SAFMH and these organisations provided much needed remote mental health services to support mental health care users, their families and others in addition to providing food parcels to destitute families.

“It is important to note that there is no health without mental health and that families need support and care during these difficult times,” says a media statement issued by SAFMH.

The SAFMH webpage has a link to the Given Gain crowd-funding page, where a special fundraising campaign has been set-up, to support the seventeen community based mental health organisations in their programme to feed families of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.

To make a donation, click here.

Everyone has a story about, or has been affected by mental health. Let’s not forget those who have limited support structures.