10 October 2019 – World Mental Health Day
We need to shine the light on mental illness and turn it into a topic of conversation that we feel safe to discuss. Often, those around us who are suffering from mental illness either don’t know it or are too afraid to talk to other people about it. This brings about a closed-off mentality that is not supportive of people in crisis. Support is not asked for, so it is also not offered.
This needs to end.
Almost a third of South Africans suffer from some kind of mental illness, from depression to anxiety to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. According to these stats, it demonstrates that if you are that one person in three, you are not alone. Talking openly about your own mental health will invite other people to do the same, and so the positive cycle of communication continues, thus breaking down the barriers that the stigma often causes.
Depression And Anxiety
Both terms – depression and anxiety – are used so loosely that their weight has been dissolved. Too often we talk about how depressed we are, or how something made us so anxious, without knowing that depression and anxiety are actual debilitating conditions. We all have the capacity to fall into depressive states or to encounter anxiety; but when it has a significant negative impact and hinderance on your life, it becomes a very different reality.
Did you know, that in some African languages there is no term for the word “depression”? It is not classified as an illness in broad African culture, which poses an issue for African men and women who legitimately suffer from the disease. If culture and family do not recognise what you’re dealing with as an actual problem, then more often than not, you are forced to deal with it on your own. Runaway thoughts and repetitive negative internal messaging are common symptoms of both depression and anxiety, and these can build up to a point where you may even feel suicidal. We published a thought-provoking podcast discussion with a suicide survivor last month. It detailed his story and how depression and the lack of communication around it actually led him to try and take his own life. He has now flipped the switch on depression and offers insightful pointers on how to take proactive action for yourself and your life. If you didn’t get a chance to listen to it last month, please listen to it today.
How To Start Conversations
It is not easy starting a conversation about depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, for that matter. If you suffer from mental illness, start the conversation with one person whom you trust. Someone who you know won’t judge you. Here are a few pointers that might assist:
- Start small and slow. Simply start with talking about what you are currently going through. Sometimes that acknowledgement alone is enough to alleviate mounds of pressure from your shoulders
- You are not alone in your suffering. Recognise that mental illness is highly prevalent in today’s world, and you might be opening up to someone who also suffers in some way
- A mental illness is not a weakness. Anyone who thinks this is possibly also suffering and unable to admit to it, or they are not the kind of person you want to be discussing your state of health with
- Fear is natural. Talk through your fear anyway and speak from the heart
- Information is power. Share information about mental illness with your loved ones and peers. This will help them understand what it is you’re going through, and also offer them opportunities to help
- Identify your triggers. Often depression and anxiety are linked to triggers in your daily life, such as stress at work, financial worries, unhealthy lifestyle etc. If you can identify what your triggers are, you can take appropriate steps to counteract them
- Share your story. If you can identify someone else who you believe to be in need of help, speak to them about your own story and help them through their own
Help Is Always At Hand
The first step towards counteracting mental health issues is communication. If you don’t feel safe talking to anyone you know or are embarrassed to bring it up with friends or family, please contact your Employee Wellbeing Programme immediately. They will give you the support you need. If necessary, they will also refer you to the appropriate professional for your needs.
Together, we can remove the stigma surrounding mental health.
Together, we can make #PositiveChoices that will elicit positive change.