Psychosocial Health in a South African Context

Chance Cim, Public Health and Development in South Africa, Spring 2013

Psychosocial aspects of health have been the most ingrained in me during these past few weeks.  For my Development Perspectives on Health class, I have been volunteering at Hesketh King, an inpatient drug rehabilitation center outside of Stellenbosch. The organization offers two programs for up to 60 men: an 8-week program for young men between the ages of 16 and 20 and a 12-week program for men 21 and older. Recently, crystal meth, or ‘tik,’ has become a problem of epidemic proportions in the Western Cape. A recent report by The Daily Voice claims that 1 in 5 Cape children are on ‘tik’ (http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/1-in-5-cape-children-on-tik-1.1506748#.UbDy3kAWeuI).

Hesketh King

Drug abuse is a propagator of poverty and can trap people in deprivation. A drug addict can think of little besides his or her next fix and this often means missing work or school. Many abusers sell their  belongings or their bodies in order to buy drugs. While all this insanity is occurring, they are breaking social ties with their families, getting in trouble with the law, and taking a toll on their physical health. Drug abuse can not only take an economic toll on a country, but also a psychosocial one within a community.

During one of our excursions for our Public Health class, we visited Hangberg in Hout’s Bay. The topic of the day was psychosocial rehabilitation. The community was overwhelmed with ‘tik’ controlled by The Numbers Gang and the Chinese mafia. However, we met some of the most inspiring community workers trying to reverse the trend of neglect and violence: addicts in recovery trying to encourage others to seek help, an elementary school principal who completely turned the school around and taught her students to take pride in themselves, and an actuary-turned-community worker who was putting her heart and soul in establishing a day care center. The work that these people do is not easy, for they often have to negotiate with gang leaders and drug lords (who act essentially as political entities) in the course of their efforts. I greatly admire their exemplary bravery and passion for fighting to save the community of Hangberg.

Learning about substance abuse in a South African context has been a defining experience during my time here. It has not only reaffirmed my desire to working in mental health and underserved populations, but given me a new appreciation for healthcare’s role in addressing social issues. I am very excited to bring this new perspective back to Chicago!