Your mental health is important: Get help early when you need it!


Mental health conditions are common. They affect more than one billion people globally. This Mental Health Awareness Week is from Monday 9 May to Sunday, 15 May. We want you to know that screening for mental health conditions can help with the early diagnosis of a mental health condition and getting the right treatment.

Mental health is an important part of our wellbeing. In fact, we should think of it as just important as physical health to our overall wellbeing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if your mental health is good, you will be able to realise your own abilities and cope with the normal stresses of life. You should also be able to work productively and fruitfully and contribute to your community.

However, poor mental health and mental health illnesses are very prevalent, and these have been getting more attention since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic.

Rapid social change, stressful working conditions, social isolation, unhealthy lifestyles, poor physical health and illnesses, unemployment, housing problems and poverty or debt are among the factors that can make us vulnerable to mental health problems, says the WHO.

"Of course, many people experienced one or a combination of these during the pandemic," says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence at Discovery Health. "The pandemic has impacted those who were already living with mental health conditions before COVID 19 as well as many more people who are now experiencing issues due to the challenges created by COVID 19."

Know the signs of mental health conditions

As we observe Mental Health Awareness Week, Dr Nematswerani points out: "If you have a mental health condition, you are not alone. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group reports that before COVID-19, one in three South Africans would suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lifetime," says Dr Nematswerani.

The Mental Health Price Index 2022 report found that nearly half of South Africans experience significant stress, which is a risk factor for mental illness.

While there is no single cause for mental illness, there are several factors that can contribute to its development. These might include your genes and family history, stress or a history of abuse, biological factors such as chemical imbalances in the brain, a traumatic brain injury, use of alcohol or recreational drugs, or having a serious medical condition like cancer.

"If you, or someone you know, experience anxiety, mood swings, changes in behaviour, eating disorders, or other symptoms that can't be explained, you need to speak to a healthcare professional," says Dr Nematswerani.

Other warning signs of mental illness include:

  • Feeling persistently sad, down or low
  • Dramatic changes in sleep patterns and appetite
  • Withdrawal from social interactions or from activities that you previously enjoyed
  • Decline in personal care
  • Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions
  • Disconnecting from yourself or your surroundings
  • Problems functioning at school, work or in social contexts
  • Suicidal thoughts.

Common mental health disorders

There are many types of mental illnesses. These include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression and bipolar mood disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Screening for mental health

"Screening for mental health is very important. This will help your healthcare provider to detect a potential mental illness early on, start you on the right treatment and recommend psychotherapy, if necessary," says Dr Nematswerani.

During a mental health screening, your GP, psychologist or psychiatrist will consider several factors.

  • Mental evaluation: Your healthcare provider will ask questions about your feelings, moods, thoughts, behaviour patterns and any other symptoms you have been experiencing.
  • Personal and family history: Your healthcare provider will want to know about your mental and physical health history and ask about your family history too. They will also ask whether you have been treated for mental illness in the past. Your healthcare provider will ask questions to try to determine if there's a specific cause for your mental illness. You will need to tell your doctor if you're using any prescription drugs and of any excessive alcohol consumption or substance abuse.
  • Physical examination: Your doctor might want to do blood tests to see whether a physical condition (such as thyroid disease) is causing mental health symptoms.
  • Cognitive evaluation: Your healthcare provider might want to assess your attention and focus, ability to recall information, memory and more.

"Screening early on and getting the right diagnosis and treatment for a mental illness will help you to maintain a good quality of life, reduce your risk of hurting yourself or others, prevent other physical health problems that can be caused by a mental disorder and help you to cope better with stressful situations and live productively," says Dr Nematswerani.

How to take care of your mental health

"There are several things you can do to take care of your mental health. While these won't prevent a mental illness, they can help to lessen the effects and to reduce the amount of mental stress you experience," adds Dr Nematswerani.

  • Getting enough good quality sleep is important to keep the brain and body in good health.
  • Regular exercise gives us a greater sense of wellbeing, lowers rates of depression and anxiety and improves sleep.
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet every day is essential to the health of our bodies and brains as they function best when fuelled with healthy foods.
  • Talking about your feelings can help to improve your mental health and to cope better with difficult situations.
  • Taking a break from work or home stresses or getting a change of scenery can help to reduce your stress levels. Short breaks are also helpful if you can't take a longer holiday.
  • Avoiding drinking alcohol to change your mood or to deal with fear or loneliness. Drinking alcohol can aggravate the symptoms of a mental illness, making you feel worse than before when the effects wear off.
  • Ask for help from friends and relatives if you are overwhelmed and can't cope with day to day activities. They may be able to help with practical things or lend a listening ear.

Discovery Health's mental health resources

  • Actively manage major depression with the Mental Health Care Programme together with your Premier Plus GP. This programme gives you and your Premier Plus GP access to tools and benefits to monitor and manage your condition, making sure you get high quality coordinated care.
  • You can use Discovery Health's Find a healthcare provider tool on our website to find a network psychologist if you need psychotherapy.
  • Visit Discovery's Mental health information hub for videos, podcasts and articles on mental health and mental wellness.

Get help for your mental illness

There are several organisations that provide support for mental health illnesses.

  • The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) | | 0800 567 567
  • PsychMatters Centre | | You can call 011 450 3576 or email for psychotherapy, parental guidance, group or family therapy. They also offer the Living Legend teen empowerment workshop to empower your teenager with life skills.
  • Lifeline | | 0861 322 322
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