Indaba is a Zulu word that means gathering for purposeful discussion; a gathering of spirits, a meeting of friends, a sharing of dreams.
I was 17 years old when I landed in Johannesburg, South Africa as an American Field Scholar in 1977; I went to Roosevelt High School where we wore grey jumpers for school uniforms and I learned what a scrum was. I lived with the Paterson Family – Brian and Alta were my host parents; Jennifer, Beverly, and Lesley my host sisters. I discovered the sweetness of milk tart and the travesty of apartheid. Almost 40 years later, I am in South Africa once again. This week in Cape Town, in addition to reminiscing personally with Jennifer and family, I have the professional honor of serving as co-host for a program to advance mental health regionally and globally. Forty years ago, I could never have imagined the South Africa of today. Forty years hence, I hope the same will be said about mental health. Here is who we are and what we are doing.
1. Curiosity and Fire in the Belly: Joining us for a 2-day Collaboration and Capacity Building Workshop, 19 early and mid-career investigators from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique explored, debated and developed mental health priority initiatives for the region, including engaging traditional healers, addressing child and adolescent mental health, expanding the work force, improving mental health literacy in primary care, reducing stigma and more.
2. Wisdom and Experience: The World Health Organization Field Study Coordination Group and Consultants served as faculty for our workshop and then dug in and pushed forward on the development of the ICD-11 mental health and behavioral disorders classification, which is used around the world to diagnose disorders and report public health data. I know most people don’t find classification sexy, but the ICD is our essential language for mental disorders. No ICD for mental health would be like no water for a shower.
3. The Future Generation of Global Mental Health Leaders: Hailing from Lebanon, Nigeria, Brazil, India, and the US, our WHO Global Mental Health Scholars are taking the reins to pioneer innovative programs – from establishing the first center in the Arab region to deliver early intervention for psychosis to addressing the mental health needs of the aging HIV community in Africa.
4. Framing Trauma & Mental Health: University of Cape Town Department of Psychiatry Student Group hosted us at Medfest. This International Film Festival aired 7 short films that vividly depict the intimate link between violence, trauma and mental ill health among populations around the world. Although not everyone exposed to trauma and violence develops mental health problems, many do, and mental ill health is a growing concern among the Syrian refugee communities, for example.
5. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Sixteen members of our Columbia International Advisory Board are here to visit NGOs that serve the most vulnerable members of society, support a Global Mental Health Scholar from the region, advise our global mental health consortium, celebrate meaningful collaboration and savor the beauty of the region.
We are 67 in all from around the world, united by the pledge that forty years hence the landscape of mental health will be transformed for the better – a gathering of spirits, a meeting of friends, a sharing of dreams.