Komani activist has a passion to help mentally ill patients

Vuyani Baart has served the Eastern Cape department of health for 40 years.
Vuyani Baart has served the Eastern Cape department of health for 40 years.
Image: Supplied

A passionate Komani activist in mental illness has been working in Eastern Cape psychiatric hospitals for almost forty years.

Vuyani Baart, 62, has worked his way up from being a junior nurse to being a professional nurse with psychiatric experience since he first joined Tower Psychiatric Hospital in Fort Beaufort in 1979.

“I have a passion for what I do. That is why I have stuck it out for so long here,” he said.

Baart said his favourite part of the work was working closely with his patients.

“I have since climbed the ranks and now I am working in administration, and I miss working with the patients.

“When I go to the wards, they greet me happily because they know how I used to treat them. Working with them was the most enjoyable time of my career. I did it for 28 years,” Baart said.

He has worked at Tower Psychiatric Hospital for just over half his career, and another 18 years at Komani Psychiatric Hospital in the 90s.

He said he had been able to work in mental institutions for so long because their conditions were not contagious.

“One does not contract mental illness simply by spending time with those who are mentally ill. If it were so, I would have never lasted this long,” he said.

People should get rid of the stigma

Baart said there were many misconceptions about mental illness in society.

“Many people have this notion that all mentally ill people are aggressive, but that is not the case.

“There are many conditions that people have. In fact, there are many people who look normal, but are on medication for a mental condition.

“This means people should get rid of the stigma and not be judgmental towards the mentally ill,” he said.

He said he was initially scared of the mentally ill patients in the hospitals because of the stigma.

“Once I had spent time with them and learnt about mental illness, I realised there was nothing to it.

“I used to be scared of them and pity them. Over the years, I learnt that they are just like us,” said Baart.

He said some patients are fully rehabilitated and able to heal and reintegrate into normal society.

Provincial health spokesman Lwandile Sicwetsha said the department was grateful for Baart’s long term of service.

“We appreciate the invaluable contribution made by our long-service employees.

“They are an important information repository and the department and younger generations can benefit from their experience and dedication in the public health sector. It is encouraging that Mr Baart has served the community of Tower and the Eastern Cape with such commitment and passion all these years.”

Baart said in his line of work people had to be patient so that they could learn what their patients needed.

“History-taking is essential because that is how we know what sort of treatment the patient will need,” he concluded.