Mental health: Don’t despair, help is always at hand

Mental health: Don't despair, help is at hand
Cancer patients and survivors need mental health support.(Photo: Freepik)

In a country where at least one in three people will experience mental health problems, the cost of obtaining care can be a significant barrier to seeking treatment. The situation is worsened by the public healthcare system not prioritising mental health as much as it should.

The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) said this also contributes to young people avoiding seeking treatment. Outside of costs, the fear of stigma and discrimination also remain barriers. A UNICEF South Africa U-Report backs this up, showing that 65% of young people did not seek help for mental health issues. At least 18% of the respondents said this was due to fears of what others would think of them.

Shayni Geffen, Project Leader for Advocacy and Awareness at SAFMH, said change is urgently needed to deal with the challenges in meeting the mental health needs of people. She said an attitude change is desperately needed, as stigma and discrimination related to mental health are far too common in South Africa.

“No country is adequately equipped to meet the mental health needs of their population. This is due to shortages of human resources, lack of prevalence data and prejudice. When we work to make mental health a global priority, countries can share, learn, and implement best practices for mental health and global donors may become more likely to direct resources to mental health services. We all benefit.”

Seeking mental health help

After losing her mother in 2020,  31-year-old Sinethemba Sithole from Esikhawini found herself on the verge of breaking down.

“I do not think I will ever be the same again after losing my mom. I was hospitalised because I had breakdowns and even lost weight. At that time, I did not care about what people said. All I knew was that I needed help,” said Sithole.

Sithole was admitted to the Queen Nandi Regional Hospital in Empangeni. During her five-day stay, she was given medication to calm her down and had sessions with a psychologist every morning. 

“It didn’t feel like a public hospital to me because of the great and professional service I received even though staying in the hospital is never ideal, but today I am comfortable to say that I am okay because of the effort the team put to see me better because I was able to talk to someone and not bottle up my feelings,” explains Sithole. 

‘It’s perfectly normal’

Mental Health Social Worker at Central Gauteng Mental Health Society,

Samual Kgafela, a mental health social worker at the Central Gauteng Mental Health Society, said people should understand that anyone can develop a mental illness. He emphasised that it’s not a sign of weakness. 

“We live in a world where we are exposed to many triggers such as crime, abuse and unemployment. Some of us are prone to mental illnesses due to genetics. This is no reason to shame anyone but more reason to care and support one another,” said Kgafela.

Central Gauteng Mental Health Society is a non-profit organisation (NPO) which provides free services to persons living with or/and affected by mental illness, intellectual disability, and life crises. Its outpatient programme in Soweto and Ekurhuleni caters for the following psychosocial disabilities:

  • Intellectual disabilities, including Cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome 
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar mood disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Depression and stress
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

“It’s challenging when our service users, who have either defaulted on treatment or have not been diagnosed, become aggressive or violent. In such cases, we must request the company of the SAPS,” he said.

Dorcas Mshayisa, a telephone counsellor at Lovelife, said we all go through tough times and people are there to help us.

“We’ve all been concerned about other people’s mental health. Whether it’s a friend or family member, there are many ways to support and care for them,” said Mshayisa.

The importance of speaking to someone

LoveLife is a youth-focused HIV prevention initiative in South Africa. The NPO promotes AIDS-free living among South African youth aged between 12 and 24 by employing a holistic approach to youth development and behaviour change that motivates adolescents to take charge of their lives for brighter futures.

Sithole says it is essential to speak to someone when facing problems.

“We live in a society that is free to throw a lot of judgements and make mean comments about people. It’s, therefore, important to speak to someone you don’t know to avoid judgment. For example, it’s normal to break down when you lose a parent,” said Sithole.  

Mshayisa said that while mental health remains taboo within black communities, Lovelife offers free services for those in need. All you need to do is send a ‘Please Call Me’ to 083 323 1023, and a counsellor will get in touch.  

“If a person is in denial about their status, we provide counselling and support/care. We also educate the immediate family on how to support their loved ones and refer them to support groups. Most people living in townships have their own beliefs, so it’s important to walk the walk with them. We put ourselves in their shoes,” said Mshayisa. 

Mental health education is critical.

Kgafela said education is the only way that people can learn to understand what mental health is.

“People are still in denial, and our goal is to make them understand that mental illness is a condition as real as diabetes or asthma, and it can be treated. A support group also empowers individuals to be aware that they are not the only ones living with a mental health condition,” said Kgafela.

Mshayisi listed a few myths and misconceptions about mental health:  

  • People with mental health illnesses are unpredictable
  • Mental Illness disorders are extremely rare in black people
  • People with mental illness cannot function in society
  • You can’t get better if you are suffering from mental health illness
  • People with mental illness are violent

Find your happy place

Sithole said that she uses the gym as her therapy.

“Whenever I feel emotional, I go to the gym. People shouldn’t be afraid to get help, and trained psychologists are there to assist them at no cost. We need to accept our situations and not compare ourselves to others. It reaches a point where one gets suicidal thoughts, but through the help of therapy, one can overcome everything. It’s a journey,” said Sithole.

Kgafela encourages young people to seek therapy and not to allow the fear of stigma to stop them from getting care.

“The youth of today need more affection and affirmation from their loved ones. Black communities need to show more affection towards their loved ones and be open to therapy,” said Kgafela. 

Geffen said mental health should be a global priority for all people, not only during mental health month in October. “But every day and in every country. Because we all have mental health, and it is a human right.”– Health-e News



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