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Zane Maureen Wilson

The Order of the Baobab in

Zane Maureen Wilson Awarded for:
Her outstanding contribution as an entrepreneur, mental healthcare practitioner and leader in the struggle to create awareness of diseases such as depression and anxiety and her contribution to the formation of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.
Profile of Zane Maureen Wilson

Zane Maureen Wilson was born on 27 May 1948 in Lincolnshire, England, and moved to South Africa in 1969, where she distinguished herself as a highly successful entrepreneur. She started Top Girl, South Africa’s first female executive placement agency. This model proved successful and she sold it in 1975.

In 1994, she established a mental-health initiative, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), now the country’s most recognised, from her home. The institution now has 15 toll-free lines for counselling and outreach programmes.

Following her own experience with years of undiagnosed panic disorder, Wilson realised how stigmatised mental illness was in South Africa and how little help and support were available to sufferers and loved ones.

SADAG is a support network for South Africans with mental health problems, and focuses on both urban and rural areas. With mental health also a serious challenge for South Africa and the world, and with estimates that one in five people will or do suffer from a mental illness, Wilson’s initiative has brought mental health education and care to underprivileged communities in rural South Africa. She assists people who suffer from mental disorders such as depression, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar, social anxiety and general anxiety disorders.

Wilson has led teams to work in areas with virtually no access to psychiatric assistance. SADAG supports the training of home-based care workers, youth groups, teachers, non-governmental organisations, community care workers, nurses, the police and church groups, to help identify symptoms and enhance access to treatment for people within their communities.

Through this work, over 160 support groups have been established. It has over 45 000 patients and a voluntary Scientific and Advisory Board of 12 professionals who ensure that the largest mental health group in Africa continues to succeed. SADAG also runs TV and radio adverts; sends out weekly press releases to print, radio and electronic media; and runs specific awareness campaigns on mental disorders.

Its programme, “Suicide Shouldn’t be a Secret”, is aimed at reducing South Africa’s high rate of teen suicide and has been run in schools throughout the country.

SADAG teaches youth that depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. SADAG offers toll-free suicide crisis and support lines and works with suicidal callers, providing counselling and referrals. It also does extensive work in the corporate sector with employee assistance programme, corporate talks and employee wellness days.

In 2005, Zane Wilson developed a new tool, the Speaking Book, to enable low-level literacy communities to receive vital healthcare messages. The book is an interactive, multilingual tool that can be seen, read, heard and understood regardless of reading ability. It addresses mental issues such as depression, suicide, bipolar, malaria, tuberculosis as well as HIV and AIDS. The speaking books have been an affordable African solution for an African problem and are now being used throughout the world.

With a permanent staff complement of just five, assisted by many volunteers, this organisation is demonstrating a great commitment to serving the communities in South Africa.

Wilson has received numerous awards, including South African Woman of the Year for Health (1998), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Federation of Mental Health’s Award and the World Bank’s Marketplace Winner for 2003. She was a finalist for the Pan-African Health Awards in 2006. SADAG’s work has also been endorsed by the World Bank, which allocated a grant in 2003, the Department of Health, the Department of Education, Johns Hopkins, the United States Embassy, De Beers, the World Federation for Mental Health, the WHO, the European Union, the Department of Social Development and the Global Fund.

Zane Wilson has made an enormous contribution to the field of mental healthcare in South Africa, demonstrating that collaboration between the Government and non-governmental sector is crucial to do more for the people. She has demonstrated passion for rural communities with little or no resources, particularly where HIV and AIDS is causing depression and in areas across the country where suicide is a very real issue. With this, she has distinguished herself as a selfless humanitarian and community-builder.