19 October 2018 Photo Anja Aucamp
Itumeleng Tsatsi - Using Occupational Therapy to tackle mental health
“Every opportunity you get is a chance that leads you to your goals, making the best of it; a journey of a thousand steps begins with just one.” - Itumeleng Tsatsi

Polokwane-born Itumeleng Tsatsi, junior lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of the Free State (UFS), pledged to improve the quality of life of South African citizens through her study and practice of Occupational Therapy.

Itumeleng Tsatsi was named in the Mail and Guardian Top 200 list of South Africans under the age of 35 who have done exceptional work in their fields, aiming to uplift their society.

Tsatsi explained that working as a clinician at the Thabamoopo Psychiatric Hospital in Lebowakgomo, Limpopo, lit a fire in her that was charged at dissociating and destigmatising the views that people associate with the term ‘mental health’.  Her focus as an occupational therapist zooms mostly into tackling mental-health issues and the injustices faced by people, making use of the services offered in the system.

World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental-health issues around the world, and mobilising efforts in support of mental health. Tsatsi elaborated that one of the many challenges she faced in clinical practice, was the constructed theories of mental health that were too westernised and did not meet the needs of South African populations, particularly in the rural areas. Her aim is to create a niche area in academia and train occupational therapists to care for their citizens on a practical basis and not only through textbook guidelines that aren’t entirely applicable to the South African context.

With October being Mental Health Awareness Month, Tsatsi further highlighted that she wants to optimise the training of Occupational Therapy students at the UFS by ensuring that their attitude towards mental health as a specialisation in their field is a positive one, due to the growing number of South Africans subjected to mental-health issues today. 

Furthermore, her study aims to empower mental-healthcare users to speak up about their experiences in mental-health institutions, to aid their reintegration into communities and create supportive environments where they can equally contribute to society. 

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