Mental health impacts all health. For example, according to the World Health Organisation, depression is one of the leading causes of disability and suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. It’s also been proven that people with severe mental health conditions can die as much as two decades earlier than they would have as a result of preventable physical conditions.
The South African Stress and Health (SASH) study: 12-month and lifetime prevalence of common mental disorders reveals that an estimated 9.8% of the adult population in South Africa will at some point experience major depression, and despite treatment being available, only 25% have sought treatment and care for a mental disorder (such as depression).
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), one in three South Africans will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life and 23 people commit suicide every day.
These statistics are pre-pandemic – we can safely assume that far more people are currently struggling with stress, anxiety, depression and even PTSD than ever before. One study conducted by the Indian Psychiatric Society showed a 20% increase in mental illnesses since the COVID-19 outbreak in India. China estimates the pervasiveness of anxiety to be around 31.9%, and depression at around 33.7%.
And yet there is a huge gap between people suffering with a mental health condition and those who are seeking support and treatment. In South Africa, fewer than 1 out of 10 people with a mental illness will receive the care that they need, even though many mental health problems can be treated at clinics and hospitals.
At Profmed, we’ve seen a similar pattern. In the first six months after launching WHISPA, a confidential programme created to support members who are experiencing abuse or need telephonic or face-to-face counselling, only one Profmed member accessed the service.
If accessing appropriate support is not the problem, what is? The reality is that we’re not having the right conversations – or making it easy and comfortable for people to share their mental health struggles and ask for help.
The stigma associated with mental health conditions
In recent years, the important role of mental health in a healthy society has been increasingly acknowledged and the pandemic has shone an even greater light on these issues. The WHO has even included mental health in its Sustainable Development Goals.
And yet, the stigma associated with mental health disorders is still prevalent, which leaves millions of people struggling and alone.
Until we address this stigma, talk about the feelings and thoughts that we are often too ashamed to share and listen when others share their mental health issues with us, this situation will continue – and increasing suicide rates, depression and physical health conditions will remain a reality.
So, how do we break down the barriers associated with having a mental health condition? First, we need to start talking about mental health. Mental health problems are not a weakness in character. They cannot be overcome simply through willpower or ‘dealing with it’. This idea is toxic and delays proper treatment. It also feeds the stigma of mental health disorders.
Instead, we all need to learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of a psychological disorder. Once we know what to look for, we will begin to realise the scope of this problem – and that we can work together to alleviate it.
Learning to recognise mental health disorders
Mental health disorders can manifest themselves in a number of different forms:
- Sleep disturbances: Some people may have increased sleep, while others struggle to sleep
- Appetite: Some might eat less, however, many might eat more. Stress eating is extremely common
- Mood disturbances can include persistent sadness, anxiety, dips in energy levels, irritable behaviour, being easily triggered, easily fatigued, overthinking, negative thinking, and crying spells
- Attention deficit, confusion, and the inability to make decisions
- Suicidal thoughts in more severe cases
- Heart palpitations
- Vague aches and pains in the body
- Gastrointestinal problems, including acidity, burning, bloating, nausea, pain in the upper abdominal area, diarrhoea and constipation
- Difficulty breathing
Holistic health encompasses mental, physical and social health. These are closely interdependent, with mental health being crucial to the overall well-being of individuals and society.
If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, anxiety or a mental health disorder, please reach out for support.
For assistance you can contact: