“When we see individuals abusing substances, that should be an alarm call seeking our attention as a society. The question is: do we choose to ignore it, or take action?”
For University of the Western Cape (UWC) Psychology student - and mental health counsellor - Mutshinye Manguvhewa, action is the way to go.
“Our society is slowly turning into a mask covering mental illnesses,” she says, “and it is our responsibility to help each other take off this mask.”
She has dedicated her studies - and her life - to making a difference concerning some of the biggest social issues. Her MA thesis work (for which she obtained a distinction) was on: Exploring the factors associated with substance use among pregnant women in a Cape Town Community
“Substance use during pregnancy is a very serious challenge affecting women globally, resulting in physiological and psychological effects on both the mothers and infants.”
The South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (2015) reported that 49% to 55% of women use substances during pregnancy. Regardless of the harmful effects associated with substance use, the South African National Drug Master Plan (2013-2017) still reports a sustained increase in substance distribution and illegal drug use in the Western Cape, even among pregnant women.
The study revealed that most of these pregnant women are not fully aware of the dangers and consequences of using substances during pregnancy. The lack of health information among pregnant women is also caused by the fact that these women are not attending antenatal clinic check-ups during pregnancy.
“Mutshinye's findings will serve as a springboard for the bigger project within which her work is located,” notes her supervisor, Dr Maria Florence. “Since her study was so thoroughly conducted, we will have no trouble in using it as a guide for the development of subsequent aims for this project on substance use during pregnancy.”
Most of the study participants had underlying psychological issues such as depression, and had undergone traumatic experiences or suffered abuse - mainly from their intimate partners - which subjected them to the development of mental illnesses. As a result, they use substances as a coping mechanism.
“It is important that we engage with pregnant women using substances and get to hear their perspectives without judgement,” Mutshinye explains. “Most of them are facing traumatic situations and substance use has become a relief mechanism.”
Mutshinye’s own mother set a good example for her.
“I am blessed to have been raised by a very supportive single mother, particularly when it comes to education. My mother has always been an inspiration to me and my two siblings.”
She thanked her supervisors Dr Maria Florence, Dr Karin Elizabeth Daniels, Jabulani Chitanga and Alechine Emmanuel Ameh.