Mobile clinic aims to tackle mental diseases

PHIRI CAWE

A Khayelithsa man who started counselling people in an old broken-down Cara-cara in front of his Mandela Park house three years ago is now offering a free mobile service in the community, with help from the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP).

Registered counsellor Banetsi Mphunga starting running his Kombi clinic in 2013 after noticing that people in his community, especially parents and their children, had a hard time accessing mental health services. But the Cara-cara (township slang for a Volkswagen Caravelle) didn’t run, so he was severely limited in the number of people he could reach. But that changed after he found Sacap on social media -the association was intrigued by Mr Mphunga’s passion to help people suffering from mental illness and tackle the stigma associated with it.

Together, they have formed the Township Parents and Children Counselling Centre (TPCCC)-the old Cara-cara, now repaired and given a new lease on life-was rolled out and presented to the community at a special launch function on Thursday May 5.

Mr Mphunga said the mobile counselling clinic van could now reach anyone in the community who previously might not have been able to access or afford mental health services. He believes the van, with its distinctive signage, will also help to show people that it’s perfectly normal to seek professional help for a mental illness.

The van will drive through the area and park in public places, so anyone can pop in for a consultation.

“Churches, guys standing on the corners, schools and individuals will access us. We will be there. This Kombi is especially for young people and those parents that have problems. We made it vibrant, so that it can be appealing to young people.

“We are here to bring change in the environment fraught with trauma and abuse where seeking clinical help is often impossible. That is due to the scarcity of mental-health resources and the cost attached, particularly if you are young.

“Khayelitsha, like many communities in the country, is under severe strain.

“With Sacap, I am hoping we will have a long and fruitful relationship. We surely can bring that needed change. Cara-cara is at people’s doorsteps, bringing services,” he said.

Lance Katz, chief executive officer of Sacap, said he had great respect for Mr Mphunga, whom, he said, was passionate and clearly loved his community.

“This project is close to my heart. When I grew up, I was troublesome, until I met a counsellor. So I know what this project means. His work is raising important awareness that mental health is critical to the overall well-being of the individual, the family, the community and society as a whole,” he said.

Mental well-being, he stressed, was a springboard for thinking, learning and communicating well. It was also important for emotional growth, resilience and self-esteem. The World Health Organisation, he added, had noted that mental health was critical to helping people reach their potential, cope with stress, work productively and contribute to society.

Residents and Mr Maphunga’s former teachers congratulated him for a job well done.

“One of the key areas is to teach children to do things positively. This is what we expect from our children. Banetsi showed leadership. He is a leader. During their time things were not like today. Now we are facing drugs, gangsterism, alcohol problems and other social ills. He is tackling that,” said Londoza Xesha, his former high school teacher.

His neighbour, Xoliswa Plaatjie, also heaped on the praise, saying he was “best among the millions”.