Mental Health | SA’s Growing Problem |
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Rich or Poor | Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate
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April 25, 2018

Mental Health | SA’s Growing Problem


In a previous article, we discussed the increasing prevalence of mental health in South Africa, along with the country’s seeming ignorance regarding the seriousness of the situation.

With priority taking the front of what is considered more pressing issues, like physical health, poverty, and crime. Our government is finding itself on the back foot when it comes to adequately dealing with the growing problem of mental health.

What the Numbers Say

Recent statistics have revealed that about a third of the population in South Africa is dealing with mental health disorders. Since the study excluded adolescents and children, and also didn’t take into account disorders like ADHD, bipolar disorder, and OCD, that number may be much higher. That means more than a third of the country’s population is currently suffering from some form of mental health disorder. Why an alarming statistic such as this doesn’t garner more support, and urgent efforts don’t make sense.

The close correlation between psychological and physical health is direct, with mortality rates rising among those suffering from eating disorders and suicide rates among people with schizophrenia, especially going up year on year. Industry specialists are attempting to adapt the narrative, by reasoning that brain failure can be likened to heart failure, and should be treated with the same urgency.

However, the necessary shift is slow, with much more needed to bring about the required changes in policy that will see mental health receive the acknowledgement and government support in resources and funding that it so rightfully deserves.

Impact on our mental health post-Covid

While everyone is aware that the primary threat of Covid is peoples physical health, the pandemic is taking its toll on our mental health, and the signs are already there. The sudden changes forced upon us has left many anxious, depressed and emotionally burnt-out. The near-collapse of the economy and the possibility of financial strain has taken its toll on everyone. Other factors that play a massive role are conditions such as grief & loss, isolation and the fear of what might happen to loved ones – which takes its toll on our mental health.

2020 has been a year of uncertainty and heaps of stress. Covid and its consequential effects have led us through some great difficulty. Many if not most of us has the first-hand experience with anxiety and depression this year. Some may have been experiencing mental distress long before Covid came to our shores.

However, despite what has been going on, there are several reasons for positivity. While it may feel as if though this year was quite damaging, there’s a silver lining. Adversity is life’s most excellent teacher. It teaches us to be strong when we thought we couldn’t be. Here are some of the silver linings this year brought us.

It increased our dedication to our health

As the country went into a panic about how the virus may affect us individually, a renewed focus was apparent, and we started realizing the importance of our overall health. Out of concern, people became determined to improve their nutrition and physical health. The general focus on well-being that we got accustomed to is now proving to be beneficial in many ways.

It reinforced our connection with others.

Our need for social support has never been greater than it was this year. When things seemed to become impossible, we had the full support of loved ones and friends. Times of adversity often brings people together. During hard-lockdown parents and children grew closer through newly discovered mutual interests.

Social distancing taught us to get creative with our relationships and how we maintain them. The internet luckily meant that we could stay connected even from afar. It forced us to consider the importance of mental health.

For the first time, we’re all in the same boat. We know what isolation feels like and everything that goes with it. Suddenly the conversation opened, and people opened up about their experience and the mental impact it has had on them. These conversations are helping everyone form an understanding in addition to feeling empathy.

Fighting the stigma

Most people living with mental health conditions have, at some point, faced judgement about their situation. Perhaps a comment quietly made or a funny look. These gestures make them feel less human or disrespected. So to have that faced judgment for contracting Covid. A stigma breaks you down to the point where you don’t want to seek help because of what others might say or think about your condition—leaving us as a society with a problem.

The problem? If those fighting mental health can’t access the treatment, they so desperately need, it holds us back as a society. Stigma causes guilt and shame for something entirely out of our control. So how do we as a society go about fighting the stigma? Below are nine ways to stand up to stigma.

Talk about it

Talking about your experience with mental health helps educate those around you who haven’t got the slightest clue about what you’re facing. Talking to those with similar experiences with mental health conditions can improve communities by making it acceptable for those suffering from these conditions to seek help without prejudice.

Educate yourself and others

Most stigma-related behaviour stems from an utter misconception about mental health. Misunderstanding the realities of mental health has dire consequences for those fighting for better mental health. Educating yourself on the facts of mental health will provide empathy and understanding towards those struggling with a mental disorder.

Show some compassion towards those with mental health conditions

You never know how far a small act of compassion will go. It can make someone’s day and reminds those around you about the core principles we so often forget. Humanity! The next time you encounter a situation like that, remember a friendly smile doesn’t cost a thing.

Avoid self-stigma at all costs

It is so easy to fall into the self-stigma trap, and it doesn’t always come from others. You may be under the impression that your condition is a personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without any help. However, we are here to tell you that this is not the case. You are not your illness, and you can rise above it. Instead of calling yourself depressed, say “I have depression.”

So, What Can We Do About It?

South Africa didn’t become the country it is today by resting on laurels or lying back in defeat. We are a population of fighters, who have quite literally shaped our futures through undying hope for better and refusing to compromise. This attitude is what will help lead South Africa into a new era of acceptance and responsibility.

Starting with yourself, you can change the perspectives of those around you – your friends, family, even your community – through raising awareness and breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. Educating yourself will put you in a prime position to spread that education to others.

It will also allow you to reach out to people suffering from mental health problems, giving them the support they often lack. Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, people tend to be singled out and shunned by peers and even employers, which leads them to suffer in silence. By being able to spot the signals, and approaching with care and compassion, you can help change the lives of those who are so often forgotten and lost in a system designed to leave them by the wayside.

Sometimes all that’s needed is a little help in contacting the right people who can help with the situation. Once the person can receive treatment, they will then go on to manage their condition and live a full and satisfying life. On a grander scale, we can shift our focus concerning mental health by joining up with organizations poised to bring about that change.

They depend on people to use word of mouth to reinforce the education and awareness strategies they employ. In doing so, enough people will be talking about the right topics in the right way, and authorities will have no choice but to sit up and pay attention.


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