The importance of employees' mental wellbeing took centre stage as Gauteng Provincial Government personnel commemorated World Mental Health Day at City Hall, Johannesburg on Tuesday, 10 October 2017. 

Under this year's global theme; "Mental health in the workplace" World Mental Health Day was observed with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues and mobilizing efforts in support of better mental health.

In her opening address Gauteng Health for MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa reminded the workers that their wellbeing is of utmost importance for a fully comprehensive public service.

"Today, the focus is on your overall health with a particular emphasis on your sound mental wellbeing and the factors that influence it; whether it be physically, emotionally to even financially," stated the MEC.

The MEC emphasized that in a public health context caring for caregivers remains imperative as the community is largely depended on them to execute their duties to the best of their ability which can only be attained if they are of good health themselves.

MEC Ramokgopa also urged against stigma often associated with mental illness and encouraged workers to be vocal about the varying personal challenges they face as opposed to keeping them bottled which habitually grow to even great challenge.

Sharing her own personal journey with mental illness was former Gauteng Provincial Government employee Louise Kotsokoane (42) who emphasized the importance of a support structure for people like her.

"My bipolar disorder detailed a rollercoaster of emotions as at most times I would be happy then extremely depressed almost in an instant.  At times I would even cut myself out of hopelessness added to that, I also suffered severe anxiety… unable to sleep at night and being in debt at the time didn't help," said Kotsokoane.

A self-confessed alcoholic at the time she revealed how she grew more and more suicidal to ultimately ending up in rehab in 2008.  After suffering a number of relapses, her life further turned to unending visits in different psychiatric institutions between 2012 and 2016.

Fighting to reclaim her life today, she credited the support she received from her then employer's Employee Health and Wellness Awareness Programme (EHWAP) for backing her in her challenging time.

"Initiatives such as the EHWAP really helped me a lot, as what I was going through really affected my work at the time.  However, they provided an enabling environment that provides support, positive lifestyle change and coping skills that assisted in improving my well-being by lining me with experts to talk to and referring me to best care facilities for people with my condition," she concluded.

Of significance on the day was the ringing of the bell of hope for mental health patients 10 times at 10h00 that forms part of the Mental Health Month celebrations which will culminate in the Mental Health Summit on 31 October 2017.

The day concluded with workers taking the Mental Health Pledge in acknowledgement and responsibility of the Life Esidimeni tragedy and as budding efforts to rebuild trust between public health and the community.  ​