Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is heading the arbitration hearings between the State and the families of victims in the Life Esidimeni tragedy. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/ANA

Johannesburg - Mental health professionals have vowed never again to compromise their ethics and integrity at the expense of those living with mental health illnesses.
“The lesson learnt is that if the 2020 Mental Health Plan was followed, the Life Esidimeni tragedy could have been avoided."

“The key thing that came out of this is that the mental health care user needs to be at the centre of everything."

“We need to remember it's a duty but one of care,” Dr Eddie Park, a psychiatrist at the province’s Sterkfontein Hospital said on Tuesday.

His remarks formed part of reflections made by mental health experts who attended the Gauteng Mental Health Summit at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, which wrapped up Mental Health Awareness Month. Theme was “Break the Stigma, Break the Silence”.

Park said those tasked to care for patients needed to remain ethical despite the pressures they face.

“We must not compromise but learn from this. We must look at ourselves and say 'Can we be ethical in all that we do?' Because we need to. We also need to work together with families, educate them and the community about mental health,” he said.

Last month during the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings, it emerged that some officials acted unethically and unlawfully in executing their duties because they were placed under pressure by their superiors and instructions coming from former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

As a result, they felt compelled to follow instructions and make decisions which included a rushed process of transferring patients to 27 illegally-run non-profit organisations, which ultimately led to the deaths of 141 mentally ill patients.

Park said the time constraints placed on officials who handled projects needed to end, as they could not compromise the well-being of patients.

He also said members of the Mental Health Review Board had to be given space to carry out their duties independently, “far from the influence of the department”.

In her report back from a commission held on the development of mental health care services, Dr Lesley Robinson, a community psychiatrist in the Sedibeng municipality region, said she hoped Gauteng would lead the country in improving mental health care and its outcomes.

Politics and Development Bureau