We need to combat the stigmas surrounding mental health

YOU’RE NOT ALONE: Stigmas surrounding mental health often prevent people from seeking help
Picture: PIXABAY

LIAM PARRISH

October is Mental Health Awareness month and everyone’s mental health has been affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Why is it so important to spread awareness about mental health issues?

Well the answer is simple, Mental health is a silent killer and keeping silent, continuing the stigma around mental health will only make things worse.

Almost 8 % of all deaths in South Africa is suicide related. This statistic was probably taken before the Coronavirus Pandemic that this statistic was only gathered at hospitals meaning the actual number of suicides may be much higher. There also seems to be a consensus amongst mental health professionals that the Coronavirus will cause a rise in mental health issues, meaning this 8% may well rise even higher for 2020.

But how do we prevent suicide? Well, there are a few warning signs that family/friends can look out for:

  • Talking or writing about suicide ( e.g. “I won’t be your problem for much longer”)
  • Withdrawing from social contact
  • Mood swings
  • Increased alcohol or drug intake
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Changing routine such as eating or sleeping patterns
  • Self-destructive behaviour eg cutting, driving recklessly, risky behaviour
  • Giving away belongings
  • Developing personality changes.

If you notice some of these changes in a loved one, don’t avoid it, address it:

  • talk about depression and anxiety,
  • discourage isolation,
  • encourage healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise and eating healthy,
  • support treatment plans,
  • put the person on suicide watch
  • most importantly, safely store away firearms, medication and alcohol.

What to do if you are feeling suicidal?

  • Acknowledge that you are not coping;
  • Ask for help. Reaching out to others can really help when you are struggling with strong emotions.
  • Seek out a mental health service provider in your area;
  • Have a coping toolbox with a crisis plan which will assist you to cope with a stressful situation in a better way. It will contain information, tools and resources to support you. Also contact names and numbers for you to reach out for help
  • Journal – Expressive writing helps you make sense of what is happening in your life. It may be a way to better process and think through the meaning of events and how you want to respond and help you express pent up emotions about things that have happened.
  • a useful way to manage intense feelings and curb harmful impulses.
  • expressive writing that is shared with others may give you a sense of social support. It feels good to share your writing and get positive feedback or have others let you know that they have been through similar circumstances.
  • Listen to music
  • Engage in an activity. Take a walk, dance, swim, exercise.
  • Be creative –read a list of emotions and write it in a journal, draw, use art or clay to create something.
  • Make up a motivational statement eg “ I am calm and coping well”
  • Use positive thinking and constructive self-talk to help lift your mood.
  • Wait the 10 minutes, and practice riding out the emotion.
  • Sit or lie somewhere quiet and bring your attention to your breathing. Breathe evenly, slowly, and deeply.

As scary as the statistics are, suicide is not the only mental health issue. The

Femicide and gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa is causing a significant amount of trauma across the country. The stress, depression and anxiety that goes with this affects victims deeply.

As well as our inability to go a few months without alcohol was evident by the looting of bottle stores, the sale of illegal alcohol, the home brewing of alcohol, and the stocking up of alcohol when sales of alcohol was not allowed showed that some South Africans cannot cope without alcohol.

Does that mean we use alcohol to cope with the stress that Covid-19 has caused? If so, we, as a nation may need to look at other healthier ways of coping and address our resilience.

Being resilient refers to:

  • how well you can deal with change and bounce back after a crisis;
  • how positive you are after an incident;
  • how well you cope with a stressful situation;
  • how you see the situation – positively or negatively;
  • your maturity level.

Not all mental health issues are as scary as suicide or as openly problematic as alcoholism but what is constant around all mental health issues is the stigma associated with them. Here are some misconceptions:

  • Seeking help means you are weak.
  • Men don’t cry.
  • Just get over it.
  • Your life isn’t bad, how could you be sad.
  • You have nothing to be depressed about.
  • Only crazy people need professional help.

These are just a few of the things that people going through serious mental health issues are told. Stigmas such as these cause people to be scared of seeking help. This increases the already existent feelings of helplessness and loneliness that one feels when suffering from any mental health issue.

Seeking help is normal, life is extremely difficult, and we all need help now and then. We go to the doctor for a broken arm without being belittled so why does it make me weak if I want to see a psychologist for my broken heart or my feelings of helplessness or for when I feel lost or overwhelmed?

This October, instead of finding out about the most obscure or interesting mental health issue, educate yourself about the nearest place to get the help that you need. Don’t think that your life isn’t difficult enough to seek help. You matter. And so does your mental health.

Liam Parrish is a counsellor at Masithethe Counselling Services.
Masithethe Counselling Services (formerly LifeLine East London) has been offering confidential and free counselling to residents of the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality since 1985 (35 years). Contact number: 043-722-2000 or WhatsApp 084-091-5410

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