According to UNICEF, 73 % of young people needed mental health support in South Africa in 2022, whilst 38 actively sought help. The rise of mental health awareness is imperative for a generation feeling overwhelmed with societal pressures. The recent #LetsTalk webinar in partnership with the Z Zurich Foundation helped raise awareness around mental health and ensure that our young people have an informed understanding of mental wellbeing, illnesses and health. The main takeaway was the importance of creating such platforms to raise and increase awareness and reduce stigmatization through knowledge sharing.
Over the last five years(2018 – 2023) South Africa (SA) has been hit hard by socio-economic challenges that resulted in a need for mental health interventions. The prevalence of mental illnesses is increasing with about 25% of people in SA having a mental illness. Some of the reasons mental well being has been brought to the fore include:
- High levels of violence, poverty, unemployment and inequality, per the World Mental Health Report SA
- The Covid-19 pandemic worsened depression and anxiety, with fear, uncertainty and social and economic disruptions arising during the pandemic
- Other reasons include: the 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
Mental health conditions are now a cause of disability in one in five people.
A UNICEF report states that suicide related to mental illnesses is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. In 2021, 65% of young people stated that they had a mental health condition but did not seek help.
What are the types of mental illnesses in SA?
The most common mental disorders affecting South Africans are depression and anxiety. Most people are familiar with the two disorders as they are most likely to affect people across the board. However there is a number of other mental illnesses such as: Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Eating disorders (bulimia), Post traumatic disorder and Panic disorder
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) is a manual that lists mental disorders, including the taxonomy and tools of diagnosis.
Some symptoms to look out for in depression and anxiety are: Depression- involves a depressed mood or loss of pleasure or interest in activities for long periods of time. Depression is different from regular mood changes and feelings about everyday life. It can affect all aspects of life, including relationships with family, friends and community.
- poor concentration
- feelings of excessive guilt or low self-worth
- hopelessness about the future
- thoughts about dying or suicide
- disrupted sleep
- changes in appetite or weight
- feeling very tired or low in energy
Anxiety-feelings of worry, anxiety or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities. Examples of anxiety disorders include panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
- Having an increased heart rate.
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired.
How can people support people with mental illness for a greater mental wellbeing?
For one to be able to support an individual with mental illnesses, they need to first understand the illness. The symptoms and general management. Once they have an informed understanding of the illness they can be able to fully support the individual. Some ways include:
- Don’t try to diagnose or second guess their feelings
- Keep questions open minded
- Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this
- Listen to what they tell you without judging
Why is talking about mental illness important?
- To raise awareness
- To know how to support individual
- To reduce stigmatization in our communities
- To ensure that most people have a better understanding of the symptoms, how to manage and get help.
– A study by DPHRU shows that more than a quarter (25%) of SAs are living with probable anxiety and depression. Some 73 per cent of children and youth felt they needed mental health support over the past year, of which more than half, 38 per cent, actively sought help, according to the latest UNICEF South Africa U-Report poll.
The reason for the increase as stated by the UNICEF 2021 report is the need to succeed in education, the need for work skills, training and employment opportunities were cited as causing the most anxiety among 57 percent of respondents.
- Fatigue and workplace: include the impact of fatigue on your mental health… work fatigue / fatigue around the energy crises and how this ‘autopilot’ state kinda perpetuates the cycle… but more importantly, how do we snap out of it
Feelings of being emotionally overextended and exhausted by one’s work. Reduced functional capacity, energetic resources—physical (involving muscular movement), mental (involving cognitive processing), and emotional (involving expression and regulation of emotions).
Associated with nonstandard schedules which disrupt or shorten sleep (night shift work and extended work hours). Working more than 40 hours per week.
- Slow down reaction times
- Reduce attention or concentration
- Limit short-term memory
- Poor performance and productivity
- Impair judgment and injuries
Symptoms: if the above is experienced consistently and prolonged can in turn result in anxiety (constant worry and panic) and depression leading to the depressive symptoms we spoke about earlier on (loss of motivation and concentration).
To reduce the impact of fatigue and take care of yourself:
- Breaks and recharge
- Have a work schedule that will allow you to take breaks and enough sleep
- Eat healthy and hydrate
- Have a hobby that you engage in and make family time (888 rule-8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure and 8 hours of sleep.
The #LetsTalk webinar aimed to address the stigma of mental health and empower youth with practical everyday activities that can help alleviate the burden of a societal issue.
Akani Mkansi is the national programmes coordinator for Junior Achievement South Africa and is the Project Lead for the Social Equity Programme across Gauteng, Western Cape, Mpumalanga, Kwazulu-Natal and Limpopo.
The programme continues to empower young people to thrive and be economically active citizens through social entrepreneurship.
She holds a Masters in Psychology.