Welcome and Introduction to Prof Melvyn Freeman

Welcome and Introduction Social Change 2013

Welcome for Melvyn Freeman

On behalf of the DVC, Sizwe Mabizela, the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Prof Rose Boswell, and the Head of the Psychology Department, Prof Lindy Wilbraham, I welcome you to this, the sixth Psychology and social change award evening. The Social Change award was initiated by the Psychology Department in 2008. In this event we honour prominent members of the Psychology community in South Africa for their contribution to social change in the country. The aim of the project is to:

    • acknowledge people who have gone beyond the traditional bounds of the discipline and contributed, through intellectual, professional and personal labour, to social change in South Africa;
    • expose students to these kinds of role models within psychology

Additionally, through highlighting the work of prominent psychologists in social change in South Africa, we seek to think deeply about the role of Psychology in relation to facilitating as well as understanding social change.

Of course social change may refer to a range of social issues. The fact of the matter, however, in terms of the current knowledge production in Psychology in South Africa, we are doing very poorly in confronting any social issue outside of our traditional comfort zone. A recent situational analysis of articles appearing in the South African Journal of Psychology (SAJP) and abstracts in PsycINFO with the keyword ‘South Africa’ over a 5½ year period showed that the traditional topics of assessment, stress, psychopathology and therapy dominate our knowledge production, with social issues such as unemployment and poverty, land reform, water resource utilisation and management, housing and sanitation, public sector and institutional transformation, health and mental health care systems, and climate change being largely ignored.

You will note that one of the under-explored issues mentioned in this research was mental health systems. Although psychologists are good at producing knowledge about psychopathology and therapy, there are only a few psychologists who orient themselves to the systemic issues of mental health.

Melvyn Freeman is one of the handful of Psychologists in South Africa who have dedicated a large of part of their working lives to understanding mental health issues and developing mental health policy and programmes. A brief overview of his resumé will illustrate what I mean.

In 1983, or as my children would say in the olden days, Melvyn was co –founder and inaugural chairperson of the Organisation for Appropriate Social Services in South Africa, or OASSSA. OASSSA, for those of you who don’t know, was an organisation formed by progressive mental health and social service workers in recognition of the devastating effects of apartheid on mental health. Its aims were to highlight these effects, to assist the victims of apartheid and to develop more appropriate models of mental health care. I think as we will hear tonight this early commitment to appropriate and just mental health care is a theme that continues in Melvyn’s work.

After completing his training as a psychologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1984, Melvyn worked in the Department of Education at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1989, he moved to the Centre for Health Policy in the Department of Community Health also at Wits. It was here that Melvyn began conducting policy research, including in Traditional Medicine. From 1993 to 1996, he was Deputy-Director of the Centre. In 1996, he took up the position of Director: Mental Health and Substance Abuse in the National Department of Health. In this capacity, he was the chief drafter and co-ordinator of Mental Health Care Act (which was passed by parliament  in 2002); he developed National Mental Health Policy Guidelines for South Africa, the National Norms and Standards for severe psychiatric conditions, health Guidelines for Survivors of Rape and other Sexual Offences, and the programme for substance abuse prevention in schools; he introduced deinstitutionalisation programmes and evaluated pilot projects and developed and oversaw Training of Primary health Care Nurses. From 2003, Melvyn worked part time as Chief Research Specialist for the Human Sciences Research  Council and part-time as a consultant to World Health Organisation. In the HSRC, he headed the section on mental health aspects of HIV/AIDS, researching the prevalence of mental health problems in People Living with HIV/AIDS, and the prevention of mental health problems in orphans and vulnerable children. For the WHO, he drafted extensive materials for WHO “package” on mental health policy, wrote the WHO Resource Book on Mental Health, Legislation and  Human Rights, assisted various countries in policy and legislative development (eg Ghana, Bosnia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Lesotho, Nepal), was the chief writer of a book on integrating mental health into primary care, co-wrote a book on Mental Health and Development, and was co-ordinator of  “Mental health and HIV/AIDS” programme, in which he developed training and resource materials for mental health interventions within the WHO AIDS programme. In 2009, he returned to the National Department of Health, this time as Chief Director: Non-communicable Diseases. His portfolio has now extended beyond mental health to include chronic diseases, disability, geriatrics, eye Health, substance abuse, oral health, transplantations, in addition to mental health. He is Extraordinary Professor,  University of Stellenbosch, and Visiting Adjunct Professor,  University of the Witwatersrand. Given Melvyn’s long commitment to mental health systems development, it is unsurprising that he has received distinguished service awards from both the South African Federation for Mental Health, and the Psychological Society of South Africa.

In addition to the exemplary work Melvyn has done in policy and implementation, he has published extensively on his research and work in policy development. In reading this work one gets the impression of a man who is simultaneously passionate about mental health in South Africa and strategic in his thinking about the development thereof. The former (the passion) is evidenced in an article published in 1992 with Cedric de Beer. In it they indicate that

As South Africa shifts from a social structure based on the principles of apartheid to a democratic society, social policies must be developed that are consonant with the ideals of the "new" society. These must, however, take into account the current realities of the South African context. This article suggests that the application of the principles of primary mental health care is the approach most likely to meet mental health needs in the future South Africa,

The strategic side is evidenced in a publication in 2000 in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, he wrote:

In the light of the resource demand (talking here about how in a country with a range of social problems, the demand for resources from a range of sectors is high), it is at times necessary and strategic to select national priorities (often Presidential priorities) and link mental health programmes to these, rather than attempting to attract resources to mental health itself.

He goes on to talk about how his department integrated mental health into the National Crime Prevention Strategy, and life skills and counselling within HIV/AIDS programmes.

It gives me great pleasure to hand over to Melvyn, who has chosen to address you about, well, Mental Health

Last Modified: Tue, 30 Apr 2013 16:50:56 SAST