Mental Health Awareness Month encourages South Africans to speak up

Many people suffering from mental health disorders are afraid of speaking up about it due to the stigma associated with depression and anxiety.

An estimated 400 million people worldwide suffer from mental disorders. These include conditions like depressive disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mental health issues rising

The pandemic certainly contributed to an increase in mental health issues among working adults and school-going youth around the world, including South Africa.

Dr Ade van Heerden, a medical officer running a primary healthcare clinic for SANDF, agrees with this sentiment.

“Having families locked in a house together for extended periods has increased the feeling of loneliness in kids and adults alike. Kids reported worrying about the future of school and their ability to succeed, while financial burdens, remote working and limited social interactions have all contributed to increased feelings of isolation, irritation, fear and anxiety in adults.”

Kids and teenagers have also greatly increased their social media screen time, which is proven to escalate anxiety and depression symptoms, continues Dr van Heerden.

There has also been more interpersonal conflict within families, putting more stress on all parties involved. The truth is that we have seen an unprecedented increase in suicide in men, women and teenagers due to lockdown restrictions globally. This tells us everything we need to know about how the pandemic is impacting our mental health.”

Tiny people insert brain into person head, clean, paint and do cleaning. Mental health problems flat vector concept. Solving psychological problems, determining the causes of mental disorders.

Breaking the stigma

Dr van Heerden highlights key symptoms to look out for when suspecting a loved one is struggling mentally, including:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and emptiness.
  • Tearfulness, agitation, distractedness or anger
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies or sport.
  • Weight fluctuations.
  • Unusual or disturbed sleeping schedules
  • Unexplained physical issues like headaches.

October has been declared Mental Health Awareness Month to not only educate the public about mental health but also reduce the stigma and discrimination that people with mental illness are often subjected to.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, Dr van Heerden encourages everyone to speak up in order to help destigmatise mental health problems.

“We need to equip parents with the tools to recognise depression or anxiety in their children. We also need to keep working towards information, education and treatment available for all, especially in rural areas.”

Not all symptoms are the same

Dr van Heerden also notes that in mild and even sometimes moderate cases of anxiety and depressive feelings, the focus should be on lifestyle and psychological interventions, assisted by over-the-counter medications sourced from nature, like Emozac by Releaf Pharmaceuticals, which assists in the relief of anxiety and depressive symptoms, contributes to emotional balance and promotes a more positive mood.

“Emozac contains an Iranian Saffron extract that works like fluoxetine (an over-the-counter medication) to decrease cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and balances your brain’s neurotransmitters. This has been clinically proven to encourage calmness and emotional balance, improve mood, support relaxation, reduce stress and promote better sleep,” says Dr van Heerden.

Lifestyle and diet changes

Dr van Heerden also encourages exercise and healthy diet changes to your lifestyle. “If done regularly, exercise is proven to decrease the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. Exercise releases feel-good hormones to improve your mood and lower your stress levels, while it also boosts confidence and general physical health.”

A healthy, balanced diet also plays an important role in keeping your mind healthy. “For the body to function optimally, it needs a wide range of micronutrients and minerals to keep your gut and brain happy.

Spending time outdoors will enhance vitamin D and melatonin levels, which play a crucial role in your mental health. Some time outside every day will keep these nutrients topped up naturally.”

Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportunity for all South Africans to acknowledge the importance of good mental health, learn how to identify the signs of anxiety and depression and educate themselves on finding the right solution.

Releaf Pharmaceuticals has committed to donating products and a portion of its Emozac sales in October to the Inala Mental Health Foundation, a non-profit company dedicated to youth development through mental health and personal development programmes. Together with Inala, Releaf hopes to inspire change, educate and encourage upliftment one community at a time.

Too many people are suffering in silence,” concludes Dr van Heerden. “It’s time for us to all do our part, whether it’s speaking up or lending a helping hand.

*All treatment of illness should begin with your doctor’s opinion.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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