Swazis reflect on their mental illness and identity...
Swazi students illustrate emotions...
Nursing students examine stigma towards mentally ill...

How does stigma impact those with mental illness?

Stigma towards those with mental illness comes from misinformation and lack of exposure to those with experiences with mental illness. Unfortunately, this worsens the difficulties encountered by individuals with mental illness and can contribute to a lack of support and discrimination. Mental health is among one of the few areas of health care that non-professionals have the ability to improve the lives of patients purely by combating stigma. Thus, awareness efforts are necessary to raise understanding of the magnitude and prevalence of mental illness both locally and around the world. 

Art offers a medium for these individuals to educate their communities about their experiences, dispelling common myths and misunderstandings. Thus, these workshops provide a space for individuals with mental illness to share their experiences on their own cultural terms in order to guide the conversation on mental health in Swaziland. 

Why Swaziland?

Swaziland does not have an expansive mental health infrastructure. There is only one psychiatrist available for a population of roughly one million individuals. Healthcare is highly centralized, with only one general psychiatric hospital and very few out-patient healthcare facilities. There is also very little reported data on the status of mental health within Swaziland.

Additionally, Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV and AIDS in the world, as well as high rates of abuse towards women and children. Approximately 40% of its population lives below the international poverty line. On account of these factors and others, the population is more susceptible to mental health issues, particularly PTSD and depression.

Where was the art produced?

Katie and Manoj, along with volunteers from IMERSE, facilitated the art workshops with individuals with mental illness at the National Psychiatric Referral Hospital, the Mbabane Government Hospital, and with a local support group.  At the request of the hospital, they also hosted workshops with mental health nursing students from the Good Shepherd College of Nursing. Additionally, they were able to facilitate a workshop with students at Dinani secondary school in rural Bulandzeni. 

The workshops generally consisted of an art activity, followed by a discussion and sharing of their artwork. All of the workshops focused on questions of self-identity and stigma. Participants were able to express themselves in their most familiar language, whether that was English or SiSwati. All images and videos were taken with the consent of the participants.