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UNDERSTANDING MENTAL The month of July is aimed at raising awareness around issues pertaining to mental illness and, in the spirit of good mental health, DR SUMAYYA EBRA HIM takes a look at general mental health and wellbeing.
Very often we use the terms mental health and mental illness interchangeably, without having a full understanding of what each means. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which every person is able to realise his or her own potential; where they are able to cope with the normal stresses of life; where they are able to work productively, and are able to make a meaningful contribution to his or her community. THE MATTER OF THE MIND ilia4 We can see from this that mental wellbeing is an all-encompassing concept that includes the ability to function fully in both our individual and social capacities. Indeed, mental health is not reduced to the mere absence of mental illness. The view of the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) is strongly akin to that of the WHO. The deputy director of the South African Federation of Mental Health (SAFMH), Leon de Beer, says that the SAFMH posits that mental health is a state of emotional and mental wellbeing that is conducive to enjoyment of life and the ability to adequately cope with everyday life stressors. They further propagate that mental health is synonymous with happiness, peace of mind, enjoyment and satisfaction.
MIND AND PREJUDICE A These are just some examples of how mental ill health may present itself. Equally important is the difficulty the people afflicted by these symptoms experience in ceasing these behaviours, or just 'stop it' or 'pull themselves together' as they are often advised by their loved ones. For the people who are exhibiting these symptoms, it is very distressing and not so easy to 'just get over it', because if they could, they would. If we were diagnosed with a debilitating physical illness it is highly unlikely that either we or our loved ones would have a flippant attitude towards it. So why then do we take our mental health for granted? And more seriously, why do we seem to disregard it when we have symptoms that indicate that we are not functioning optimally mentally? In South Africa, it is estimated by the Department of Health that 1 out of 4 people have or is affected by mental illness. However, of the estimated 25% of suffers only about 10% to 15% get help for their mental distress. Is the reason for this because we do not know what the next step is in the process after we have been diagnosed? Or is it perhaps because we do not have access to adequate mental health care, or because of the stigma attached to mental illness? Discrimination against those diagnosed with a mental or psychological illness is rife. Intolerance against the mentally ill is no different from racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, and can in no way be justified. It results in hurt, marginalisation and isolation of the mentally ill who are no different to those suffering from chronic physical illnesses, for example, people with diabetes or asthma. People readily sympathise with someone who is diabetic or asthmatic, yet look scornfully and suspiciously at someone who is mentally unwell. In fact, our judgments have sometimes been so harsh that our treatment and view of those with mental illness have led to some very inhumane practices. One such practice is trephining, an ancient practice in which parts of the skull were chipped away so that evil spirits thought to cause insanity could escape. Other practices included being forced to have ice-cold showers, and even exorcism. Thankfully humankind has come a long way since then and we now understand mental illness as being primarily a physical illness with a biological base in the brain of the afflicted. To a large extent people with mental illness have been excluded from mainstream society, and unfortunately this is often still the case today. Efforts have been made to rectify this trend, for example the implementation of the South African Employment Equity Act and the establishment of various mental health organisations and patient advocacy groups. Among these are the SA Federation of Mental Health, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Suicide Crisis Line and Life Line to name a few, all of whom offer assistance for those suffering from mental illness. They are dedicated to removing the stigma of mental illnesses in our society through media awareness campaigns and the education of patients as to their rights. These groups have aided in the transformation of attitudes and in educating the public about mental health and ill health. Psychological distress and disorders do not discriminate. They permeate every stratum of society and suffering from a mental illness does not preclude the potential to significantly contribute to society. Throughout history there have been many famous politicians, artists and writers who have lead productive and inspiring lives, despite being afflicted by psychological disorder, for example, Winston Churchill, Vincent van Gogh and Charles Dickens, among others. LITTLE MINDS A Children are not immune from experiencing the signs and symptoms of an array of mental health issues. Knowing how to recognise these can aid in timeous and effective intervention: Among these are: Significant change in school performance Avoiding friends and family Frequent outbursts of anger Self-harm Constant worrying Not doing the things he or she used to enjoy Drug and alcohol abuse Loss of appetite Frequent mood swings Lacking energy or motivation "Psychological distress and disorders do not discriminate. They permeate every stratum of society and suffering from a mental illness does not preclude the potential to significantly contribute to socie 1
SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE YOU? irfjol, You take care of your body: you go to the gym and eat ' a balanced diet; you have enough rest and relaxation, you exfoliate your skin, take multivitamins and go to the spa. Do you do anything exclusively for your mental wellbeing? Do you share your troubles with family or friends, or better yet, a mental health professional? Do you have enough self-knowledge to know when you are tipping over the edge? And if you have already been diagnosed or treated for a psychological illness, how much do you know about your condition? Some of these questions are a good starting point for you to evaluate your mental wellbeing. There is so much that can be done to maintain and or improve our mental wellbeing and we owe it to ourselves to take holistic care. The intricate link between the body and mind cannot be underestimated, and the payoff for taking good care of ourselves will be a happy healthy body, mind and soul, during the month of July and beyond. CD If you or anyone your know needs assistance, contact the following groups: Life Line on 011 715 2000 Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 South African Depression and Anxiety Group on 01 I 262 6396 South African Federation for Mental Health on 0861 322 322 The SAFMH is affiliated to the World Federation of Mental Health and is the largest mental health organisation in South Africa.