From navigating personal mental issues to helping destigmatise and claim ownership of one’s mental health: Meet this week’s cool kidMbali Shongwe, activist and founder of the youthled nonprofit, Mindful(l) Organisation.  

With a young, innovative mind tackling the complexities behind mental health and society, Mbali Shongwe (21) is one of the many mouthpieces for mental wellbeing and illness among the youth.

Shongwe’s Instagram biography reads: “Founder @mindfulorganisation, intersectional activist committed to promoting dialogues surrounding blackness, queerness, mental health and GBV [gender-based violence].” What it excludes is that besides being a progressive individual who believes in inclusivity, Shongwe is a third-year student pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in sociology and history at Wits University.

Mindful(l) Organisation celebrated its first anniversary on April 10 2021 since its conception during the 2020 covid-19 lockdown. It is set apart from conventional mental health organisations from the head down. It is led entirely by students, who have themselves dealt with and navigated personal mental health journeys.

Shongwe tells Wits Vuvuzela the organisation’s conception was based on her personal experience of how help was inaccessible to her, especially as an African student. What she recalls as her “struggle” with mental health led her to form the organisation so that others do not have to suffer in silence as she did, by ensuring that resources are readily available to those who need them.

Mental health is not just about those who have been diagnosed with mental illness, Shongwe explains. It is equally about taking care of one’s mental well-being. The aim is to destigmatise misconceptions of mental health and create a community of understanding. Within the organisation they have actualised that there is ‘‘strength in community’’. Shongwe adds, “We have become a resource to one another.”

The organisation has grown, with the majority of engagement coming from youth between the ages of 16 and 24. Shongwe, who is also a mentor, recalls that the entire experience has been “really great” and that they have been shown much love.

“We are constantly learning,’’ she said. ‘‘This year we are more formalised and corporatising [the organisation] more.”

With the attention the organisation has gained, it is offering more services. With a mentorship programme offering one-on-one sessions with trained mentors, individuals are assigned to mentors according to their mental health history. In April 2021 support groups were launched that serve as pockets of safe spaces, with groups addressing anxiety, addiction and gender-based violence. Mindful(l) Organisation is a hands-on organisation that epitomises the “how can we help” attitude.

“The goal is to make it accessible”

Not being able to engage with students on campus is a challenge, so the organisation creates an interactive environment on social media and meets with interested individuals via Zoom.

“I feel like we haven’t been able to reach all demographics. The goal is to make it accessible,” Shongwe told Wits Vuvuzela. Reaching disadvantaged communities is another challenge they grapple with.

With one successful social event in the bag, Shongwe said, they are brainstorming on how to offer more wholesome events that will appeal to the youth.

Through their dedication to helping, they have gained donors from the banking association, and also have volunteer psychiatrists and psychologists across all the provinces who each donate about five hours of professional service.

Shongwe’s greatest takeaway after a year is that she is learning to delegate: what she calls “the art of letting go”.

Every week, Mindful(l) Organisation discusses topics related to mental health, and anyone can engage with its posts or attend IG live discussions with guest speakers.

FEATURE IMAGE: Founder of Mindful(l) Organisations, Mbali Shongwe. Photo: Provided