Mental Health Information Centre of Southern Africa
Tygerberg, South Africa
Dana Foundation: The Mental Health Information Centre of South Africa collaborates with several partner organizations to run a Brain Awareness Week (BAW) program that reaches 5,000 people. How far in advance do you begin planning, and how are topics selected?
Janine Roos: We usually begin planning the activities in July of the previous year. We select topics that are of specific importance to South Africans and that tie in with the BAW theme, such as anxiety and stress disorders, depression, substance abuse and the latest brain research.
DF: For at least the last two years, the Centre has arranged for live radio interviews with experts on brain imaging and disorders. Have you found this an effective medium for outreach, and how to you measure success?
JR: This medium has proved to be very effective for us. We have limited staff and funding and through talks on various radio stations in different languages we reach a lot of people, lay as well as professional. We measure the success of the radio talks by the number of calls/e-mails to our call centre after the talk.
DF: Last year, the Centre partnered with the drama department of the University of Stellenbosch to present an interactive play for first-year students. What was the focus of the play, and how did the students react to this creative initiative?
JR: First-year university students are often overwhelmed by a lot of new information and a demanding academic and social program. The focus of the play ‘Balance: a no-brainer’ was to inform them of the importance of creating a balance between their academic and social lives. Through an interactive play they learned about brain health and the latest brain research findings. They were also informed of local student counseling services should they need help adjusting to new demands. The feedback from students was very positive.
School talk, organized by the Mental Health Information Centre of Southern Africa, at Excelsior Secondary School, Cape Town, during Brain Awareness Week 2012. Celine Fjeldheim, University of Stellenbosch, delivered information about balance and the brain. (Photo courtesy of MHIC)DF: In 2011, the Centre, in conjunction with the University of Cape Town and the MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders at Stellenbosch University, organized a visit to three schools in Cape Town to discuss the detrimental effects of substance abuse on the brain. In your report, you mentioned that this is an important issue because of alarmingly high rate of substance abuse and addiction in South Africa. What was your strategy for delivering the information and what lessons do you think the kids learned?
JR: Because of the success in 2011 we again went to high schools in the so-called Cape Flats area of the Western Cape in 2012. Substance abuse, especially the use of methamphetamine and marijuana, is a big problem in our schools. We gave a PowerPoint presentation with explicit examples of the detrimental effects of substance abuse on the brain. We hope that this will make these students think twice before engaging in this kind of risky behavior. We also left them with information booklets from the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and with contact information for different local services should they need help.
DF: What events have you planned for this year’s BAW celebration?
JR: For this year’s BAW we are planning several radio talks and clips in the written media (i.e. magazines and community newspapers). We have furthermore organized a lecture for third-year medical students about the influence of trauma on the brain and on modifying traumatic memory. By being part of the MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders and working closely with the Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, we are in the unique position to have access to experts in different fields of research. Members of this unit and department are usually more than willing to do radio talks and assist journalists to share their knowledge and information on their research initiatives.