Mental Health Awareness Month

October has been declared Mental Health Awareness Month in South Africa. Mental health refers to your emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It is fundamental in how we handle stress, relate to others and make decisions.

Mental health awareness is now more important than ever as COVID-19, social distancing and the economic impact of the pandemic places greater strain on individuals, even those who may not have been diagnosed with a condition before.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) estimates that one in five people suffers from mental illness, at least once in their lives, but very few seek help or treatment for fear of discrimination and stigmatisation.

Education and conversations around mental health are key. Promoting awareness around both mental health and mental illness, local celebrities have started speaking out about their mental health. Founder of The Threaded Man, Siya Beyile; YoTV child star and presenter, Sade Giliberti; Trevor Noah; actress and presenter, Bonnie Mbuli and Trevor Gumbi have all publicly shared their stories.

“If you learn to love yourself and not give in to what other people think about you or not care what they think, and just follow your dreams, you can achieve anything,” model Cara Delevingne commented on her struggle with depression. She joined a long list of international celebrities including Kendrick Lamar, Emma Stone, James Franco and Lady Gaga who have candidly spoken about their battles with depression, anxiety and substance abuse – highlighting that no-one is immune.

The singer, Billie Eilish offered some advice, “you don’t have to make it super serious right away. Instead, you can start by asking ‘How are you feeling?’ or ‘Are you OK?’”

Mental illness can be treated and prevented. If you feel that you or someone close to you needs help, speak to your doctor (GP), healthcare practitioner or clinic. SADAG and the SA Federation of Mental Health (SAFMH) list a number of helplines and resources on their websites.

According to SADAG, medical aid schemes have also started recognising mental illness and most schemes will honour the prescribed minimum benefit in terms of mental health. Some companies have established Employee Assistance Programmes to offer support for employees.

While companies and organisations are increasing their focus on addressing the mental and emotional health of employees and the public, it all starts with recognising the need for help and reaching out.

Next week, we’ll look at the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on mental health.

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