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Dr Anusha Lachman: Pioneering Child and Adolescent Mental Health Advocacy in South Africa

As South Africa grapples with a mental health crisis, Dr Anusha Lachman as the newly appointed President of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) will be focussing her attention on addressing the grossly neglected field of child and adolescent mental health (CAMH) in the country. She brings a wealth of experience and a visionary approach to her new role.

In her groundbreaking role as the first child psychiatrist to lead SASOP, Dr Lachman brings a bold vision and unwavering commitment to transforming the landscape of mental health care, particularly for the youth.

“Despite the pressing need for mental health services, there are fewer than 40 registered child psychiatrists in the country, leaving a vast gap in services for children and adolescents struggling with mental health issues. We need to focus on screening, awareness, systems strengthening, and partnerships to address the unmet needs of children and adolescents across the country.,” Dr Lachman comments.

“One of the significant challenges is the lack of reliable data on CAMH in the African context. Much of the existing research and literature predominantly stem from Western, high-income settings, failing to capture the unique challenges and experiences faced by youth in South Africa. We urgently need to develop a comprehensive data collection system to understand better the prevalence of mental health disorders among young people and tailor interventions accordingly.”

Dr Lachman advocates for psychiatric services that are Afro-centric and culturally sensitive, recognising the importance of incorporating diverse perspectives and voices in mental health care.

“We require collaborative efforts involving mental health care providers, educators, community workers, caregivers, and allied health professionals to develop holistic and culturally relevant approaches to support youth mental well-being.”

In addition to prioritising child and adolescent mental health, her vision for SASOP and psychiatry, include:

  • Fostering a culture of research and academic excellence within SASOP, leveraging the society's influence to drive locally generated, clinically relevant research that informs policy and practice; and

  • The importance of effective science communication in combating stigma and misinformation surrounding mental illness. She envisions SASOP as a leader in leveraging social and popular media platforms to disseminate accurate information and promote understanding of mental health issues among the public.

In her pursuit of transformative change, Dr. Anusha Lachman challenges SASOP members to embrace discomfort, ask hard questions, and disrupt the status quo. With her visionary leadership and unwavering dedication, Dr Lachman is positioned to instigate a paradigm shift in child and adolescent mental health care and break the stigma in South Africa, paving the way for a brighter future for the nation's youth.

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