The Ithemba Foundation


Newsletter June 2023


CS4D Day – Sock the stigma!

A big THANK YOU to all who made this year’s CrazySocks4Docs Day such an inspiring event! On the first Friday in June, this year on June 2nd, Ithemba hosted our CS4D Day, a campaign to raise awareness around the mental health needs of all our healthcare workers countrywide.

An important aspect of this campaign is to break the stigma and the silence around the needs of our healthcare workers. A study found high rates of burnout, depression and anxiety among doctors, particularly those in rural areas and at the early stages of their careers. With the CS4D initiative, started by Australian cardiologist Dr Geoff Toogood, we want to start the conversation on a serious subject with a fun approach.

And didn’t South Africa “sock the stigma”! Social media was awash with silly, zany, mad, simply crazy socks showing we indeed “Care4OurCarers”.

As always, we also had the sock selfie competition for undergraduate students on health sciences campuses. Those with the most “likes” on campuses that participated won themselves R1 000 cash. This year’s winners are Luyanda Mtshali (Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha), Ralph Mkhabela (University of the Western Cape), Sipheshile Masango (University of Cape Town), Botlhale Selemogo (University of the Free State), Zilingene Mkhwanazi (University of KwaZulu-Natal) and Mfundo Sibuyi (University of Pretoria).

Journalist and adventurer Erns Grundling and his four-legged best friend, Suki, showing off their support for CS4D. Watch out for Erns’ new series Elders, this one in France, as a “warm-up” for the World Rugby Cup, starting 3 July at 20:00 on kykNET (144)
Here are some of the crazy, funky sock pictures we have received for our CS4D sock selfie competition. The undergraduates from our health science campuses were asked to submit their selfies and stood the chance to win R1 000 cash.


Online safety and children

Social media is a wonderful tool and indispensable for many aspects of 21st century life. But it can also be a hazard to children.

Hollywood star Kate Winslett recently called on “people in power” to criminalise harmful online content. She played the role of the mother of a teenage daughter suffering from mental health problems due to her exposure to damaging online content.

In Britain, the British Molly Rose Foundation, established after teenager Molly Russell took her own life after viewing harmful material, said it was time to listen “to the chorus of concerned parents” and that strong legislation is needed to shield young people from damaging content. In South Africa there are not yet pressure groups to criminalise harmful digital content.

Until we have legislation in place to persecute the owners and pursuers of the Pandora’s box of harmful online content, this plea to parents: Please make sure your child is not exposed to such content – including the growing reality of online bullying. The world is a cruel place, and the digital world even more so. Regulation of social media must become a priority. Read more


Gut feeling? Indeed – it has to do with your mental health!

Scientists know our gut influences our brain. Although it is not yet clear how microbes in the gut influence the brain – and vice versa – several studies have “revealed possible routes of communication that include the immune system, branches of the vagus nerve that run from the gut to the brain, and interaction with the nerves and synapses that control the function of the gastrointestinal tract”. Scientists hope that by shifting the composition of microbes in the gut, either by administering particular microbes, or by helping beneficial microbes to thrive, they eventually might be able to help treat disorders such as anxiety and depression – an approach known as psychobiotics. Experts say if these links can be understood – and harnessed – the impact could be profound. Psychobiotic drugs will be able to “shift” the composition of microbes in the gut and may eventually be able to help treat certain mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Next time when you have a specific “gut feeling” ... be aware that it might be more than a simple manner of speech.


Don’t listen to your depression!

Do you also hear those relentless voices in your head ... “you’re just lazy”, “you’re selfish”, “you’ll never change”, “you’re not good enough”, “you don’t deserve good things”? Don’t listen to them! Most of all, don’t let them affect your mental health and wellbeing. Read more on the 5 lies that depression tells you over and over.


Look to the trees … and learn

By Dr Cobus McCallaghan

In our previous newsletter I discussed Professor Ann Masten’s factors of resilience, such as being a member of a support system, sensitive caregiving, and having a sense of belonging. Today I want to continue the discussion with this photo of a tree I took in a forest. By being connected to nature and becoming aware of all the amazing and complex systems in nature, we can learn so much about how we can develop resilience too. When we witness nature and how resilient different species and systems are in order to thrive and survive, we are motivated to do the same.

As you can see in the photograph, the tree developed a special root system in order to survive. We can see this little tree as a metaphor for demonstrating resilience factors such as active coping, problem solving, hope/optimism, and a purpose and sense of meaning, all according to which Masten compiled her resilience factors.

In my photograph, the tree demonstrated the ability to grow a complex root system in order to stay upright (coping and problem solving/planning). The tree continues to grow, although it is in a difficult environment (hope/optimism), striving to become part of the forest communication and regulation system (purpose, and a sense of meaning), and therefore being part of the forest. As a psychiatrist I observe how individuals struggle with numerous issues, e.g., being sensitive as to how others view them, the negative impact of social media on vulnerable individuals, bullying, experiencing low self-esteem, difficulty with communication and problem solving.

Always remember every individual is unique, and our life trajectories are different – but also remember we are all part of nature, and I hope that this “lesson from nature” will help you on your life’s journey. I also recommend this video in which Professor Suzanne Simard discusses how complex self-regulation communication systems assist trees – not even within the same species – to ensure their wellbeing.

Photo: Dr Cobus McCallaghan

Be safe. Do not isolate. Make sure you have a support system to assist you – in my experience every individual needs this.



ITHEMBA FOUNDATION - NPC 2012/171250/08 - PBO 930/048/019