Exploring the lived experiences of community members involved in a community conversation programme to promote mental health in a community in EThekwini district, KwaZulu-Natal.
Awolesi, Bukunola Esther.
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Aim The aim of the study was to explore the lived experiences of participants of a CC programme in a community within eThekwini district, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), and to describe the positive and negative contributions of the CC programme towards community life and mental health among participants who attended the programme. Methodology The researcher adopted a descriptive phenomenological approach, using eight focus group discussions and one individual interview with fifteen participants divided into three groups. The selection of the setting was based on the researcher’s prior involvement in two community conversations in the community, and, ultimately, on the participants who were on the attendance list, met the inclusion criteria and were willing to participate. The focus group discussions and interview consisted of questions about participants’ demographics, experiences and probes into the areas of feelings, relationships, change, personal decisions and group belonging. Data transcription was done manually. Data was gathered and analyzed using Colaizzi’s method of data analysis. Results Significant statements were extracted and grouped to form larger units or clusters. The clusters were then organised into six themes, with associated significant statements made by the community members: Theme 1: Mixed feelings: hope, anger, fear and empathy. The participants express differing emotional impact during their participation in the CC programme. Theme 2: The reality of the power differential. Evident throughout the interview and focus group discussions were issues of how community members perceived themselves as powerless in providing solutions to the education and drug abuse problems in the community. This is due to the resultant tension between community members and other major stakeholders including their non-involvement. Theme 3: Learning from others. Details emerged from the interview and focus group discussions about how community members have learned from the experiences of others particularly those that are directly affected. Community members become less judgemental and developed empathy. Theme 4: Community resolve. This involves change that affects the community’s living experience rather than individual behavioral change. The participants expressed thoughts related to change that was expected to have occurred as a result of the CC programme and the feeling of needing to be part of the change. Some believed they, as individuals, can make a change to affect the whole. However, others felt that the ability to effect change was dependent upon the willingness of other members in the community to participate as a collective, a group. Theme 5: Theme 5: Community identity. Various implications emerged in the study such that there was a collective ownership and responsibility regarding issues affecting the community. Emphasis was placed on areas where they could make a difference without necessarily waiting on other stakeholders. Theme 6: The reality of not being the only one. Emerging topic in this theme is the safe space that the CC provided. This safe space provides an opportunity to appreciate and identify with other people’s stories. It allows the individual to meet with others going through the same situation. Also through the CC programme people who felt judged based on their circumstances were given the opportunity to clarify their situation. Conclusion and Recommendations It was notable that participation and commitment, including power-sharing among all stakeholders, is essential for visible change to occur within the community. The recommendations focus around key factors for ensuring increased participation, commitment and collaboration among all stakeholders for sustained change in promoting community life and mental health. These include clarifying the roles of each stakeholder, providing additional training for the programme facilitators to develop their capacity to deal with conflict, the use of multiple strategies when tackling prevalent issues in the community, good communication skills, extensive training in the community conversation process, and up-to-date documentation and evaluation.