October 2015 is Mental Health Awareness Month and with that in mind there’s no better time to review the nations collective psyche.
The numbers paint a rather gloomy picture. One third of all South Africans have some form of mental illness. More than 17 million people in South Africa are dealing with depression, substance abuse, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia – illnesses that round out the top five mental health diagnoses, according to the Mental Health Federation of South Africa.
According to studies done by the University of KwaZulu-Natal researcher Lourens Schlebusch, an estimated 7 582 South Africans die by their own hand every year and 20 times that number attempt but fail to take their own lives. Despite the high number, the Department of Health unsurprisingly only spends 4% of its annual budget to address the crisis.
And is it any wonder that South Africans are reaching breaking point? Let’s review the contributing factors.
Crime:With a robbery, rape and murder rate rivalling that of a worn torn nation, the average South African spends an enormous amount of time living in constant fear of their own or their loved ones’ lives.
Unstable economy and lack of basic services: While working South Africans cough up millions each year in taxes, they don’t reap the benefits at all. A complete lack of service delivery across the board, an unstable power grid that is slowly crippling businesses and now the ever rising threat of water shortages as well.
Job security: Young graduates and job seekers are finding it ever more difficult to gain employment in a declining economy, and those South Africans that are employed are often working twice as hard at lower pay and with no salary increases in sight.
Mental Health experts warn that high levels of stress have become so normalised in South Africa that most people are not even aware that they have reached their limit. Prolonged periods of time spent feeling sad or hopeless can actually alter the brain’s chemical balance and trigger long-term depression. The coping mechanisms that people are using are not healthy either. With anything from excessive alcohol to pharmaceutical and recreational drug abuse. These factors can also trigger irreversible mental health problems including bipolar and schizophrenia.
So what’s the solution?
To achieve a state of mental wellbeing, people have to address the problem on three fronts.
Mental Health experts warn that it’s time to put pride in your pocket and seek help. There’s no shame in seeking professional counselling services. Thankfully many of those tired and stereotypical views about individuals that seek professional help, are fading fast as those that are wise enough to realise that they just are not coping, take the initiative to seek advice from the experts.
While it may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re feeling down and out, one should never underestimate the benefits of healthy living. A balanced lifestyle comprised of healthy eating and regular exercise can do wonders for your body’s natural chemical balance. In addition, when you look healthy and feel healthy, your overall state of wellbeing increases significantly.
Make a list of all those things that make you feel truly happy. Whether it’s a Saturday afternoon braai with your closest friends and family, joining a volunteer group so you can give back to others, or simply attending church on Sunday. Make a list of those times, places and situations that make you feel happiest and dedicate a significant portion of your free time enjoying those activities.