Contributor: Masego Molelekwa
According to a recent article in the Sunday Times newspaper, "More than 17-million people in South Africa are dealing with depression, substance abuse, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia." The report, with graphical statistics, explained that one in three South Africans suffer from some form of mental illness.
Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how people think, feel, and act. Mental health also relates to how people handle stress and make choices. It affects people of all ages - from childhood and adolescence through to adulthood.
Some of the contributing factors to mental health problems may include:
- Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
- Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
- Family history of mental health problems
However, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group estimates that as many as one in five people will suffer or does suffer from a mental illness in their lives. Mental health problems emanating from depression and anxiety as well as substance abuse and work stress are common, and have a huge effect on the wider community.
Although many mental health problems can be treated at clinics and hospitals, very few South Africans with mental health issues reach out for help. The Mental Health Care Act 17 of 2002 states that mental health services should be provided as part of primary, secondary and tertiary health services. In practice, this clearly does not always happen. Mental illnesses are not always simple to treat, as they could be the result of an interplay between biological, environmental, social and psychological factors.
Here are some of the early warning signs to check whether someone may be experiencing mental health problems:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from people and usual activities
- Having low or no energy
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
- Yelling or fighting with family and friends
- Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Having persistent thoughts and memories you can't get out of your head
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
- Thinking of harming yourself or others, and
- Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school.
Mental health awareness is important because it allows people to:
Realize their full potential
- Cope with the stresses of life
- Work productively
- Make meaningful contributions to their communities
Ways to maintain positive mental health and avoiding any negative mental health problems include:
- Getting professional help if you need it
- Connecting with others
- Staying positive
- Getting physically active
- Helping others
- Getting enough sleep
- Developing coping skills
According to South African Depression and Anxiety Group, the prevalence of depression and anxiety in South African students is said to be higher than the prevalence reported among college students in the US and Turkey, respectively. A recent study has revealed that South African students are at a greater risk of depression and anxiety due to a barrage of socio-economic challenges they face.
Apart from exam stress and the pressure to perform and fit in, they also face potential rape, victimisation and destructive protests on campus that could make them more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Protests seem to have become the norm at tertiary institutions across the country. The violent protests that erupted at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) saw several students arrested, lecture rooms torched and classes suspended.
According to Northglen News, a 2015 study that was conducted by Stellenbosch University among 1 337 students of varying backgrounds, found that 12% of university students experienced moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 15% reported moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.
"Being a student requires a lot of changes because of the transition. The added stress to perform in a highly demanding environment, while trying to establish build relationships is also hard, it makes one to be prone to being depressed," says Ms Tendani Ratshisusu, an Honours student in Strategic Communication.
Ratshisusu added, "Sometimes I even fear for my personal safety because I live off campus and still have to travel my homes. I always have to think of Bree Taxi Rank and I am always anxious when attending my classes which end till late in the evenings. I have to leave in a hurry before it gets dark and this gives me anxiety most times."
Ms Presida Mamabolo, a 2nd year student in Financial Services Operations, said that "sometimes a lot of students experience a loss of interest in activities that they used to love, they become anti-social, isolate themselves from their peers and spending more time alone, overindulging in alcohol as a possible escape or to numb the pain"
Breaking the silence
With examinations around the corner, it is important identify and take action of these silent tragedies that are playing themselves out on campuses. Students are also encouraged to download the MySos Emergency Application on their smartphones and find out more about the application on the following link: https://mysos.co.za/about.php
Where to find help:
PsyCaD Campus Office Telephone
Bunting Road (APB): 011 559 1318
Kingsway (APK): 011 559 3106
Doornfontein (DFC): 011 559 6042
Soweto (SWC): 011 559 5752
Lifeline 24-hour helpline: 0861 322 322
SADAG helpline: 0800 567 567 / or SMS 31393.
For more information:
WHO's website on mental health: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/
SA Federation for Mental Health: www.safmh.org.za
South African Depression and Anxiety Group: www.sadag.org.
ER Medical Services: 011 559 2555