Look after your mental health during the holidays


With the summer holidays come an increased rate of suicide deaths, which will unfortunately be worsened by the effects of COVID-19 this year. There are several organisations, including Discovery, to help you through this time and support your mental health.

Mental health is important no matter the time of year. However, with summer holidays around the corner, it's particularly prudent to look after one's mental health - especially given the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people will be entering the festive season without loved ones who succumbed to COVID-19. And while a portion of South Africa's population is already vaccinated against COVID-19, a fourth wave of the virus is predicted to reach the country between November and January, worsening an already difficult time. These uncertainties and losses could all have a negative impact on mental health.

Suicide rates increase in summer holidays

If you suffer from a mental illness, you're not alone. During the first lockdown period, a study published in the South African Journal of Psychology reported that 33% of South Africans experienced depression during the first lockdown period. Patients attended psychotherapy sessions because they experienced sleep disturbances, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and substance withdrawal symptoms.

Unfortunately, another study that was published in the International journal of environmental research and public health , found that suicide rates tend to increase over the summer holidays. Suicide deaths were more prevalent in South Africa in December (11.7%) and January (9.2%). The study suggests that changes in social activities and the possible influence of the festive season may increase the risk of suicide. This is thought to be true especially among those living in less urban areas and with lower socioeconomic status.

Some people might be experiencing mental health problems for the first time, given the challenges that comes with the pandemic. Others with existing mental health problems might have found that the pandemic elevated their condition. Add in the potential of yet another gloomy festive season and this could lead to individuals feeling compelled to commit suicide.

Symptoms of mental illnesses

There are many types of mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder, eating disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychotic disorders. The symptoms may differ depending on the condition and circumstances. Here are a few examples of symptoms of mental illnesses:

  • Dramatic changes in sleep patterns and appetite
  • Decline in personal care/li>
  • Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions
  • Withdrawal from social activities that the person previously enjoyed
  • Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity
  • Uncharacteristic behaviour
  • Suicidal thoughts

Signs of a possible mental illness in children and teenagers may include:

  • Loss of interest and persistent sadness
  • Being angry or irritated more often
  • Frequent crying
  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Missing school often
  • Sudden change in behaviour and school performance

Discovery's mental health care services

If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, have suicidal thoughts, or know someone who is struggling with these symptoms, it is important to get professional help. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist or you can contact one of the several organisations that support people with mental illnesses.

Discovery's Mental Health Care Programme gives patients who are being treated for major depression enhanced support and additional benefits to help them better manage the condition. The programme promotes the diagnosis and initiation of treatment of major depression to reduce the fragmented care between mental and physical health, allowing for faster diagnosis and treatment.

Eligible members will have access to the following benefits:

  • Up to three consultations with your Premier Plus GP
  • An initial psychotherapy session if referred by your Premier Plus GP
  • Antidepressant medicine
  • Additional psychotherapy consultations with your enrolling network psychologist

You can use Discovery's Find a healthcare provider tool on our website www.discovery.co.za to find a network psychologist if you need psychotherapy during the holidays.

Visit Discovery's Mental Health 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) | www.sadag.org | 0800 567 567
  • PsychMatters Centre | www.psychmatters.co.za. You can also contact 011 450 3576 or email at info@psychmatters.co.za for psychotherapy, parental guidance, group or family therapy, or the Living Legend teen workshop to empower your teen with life skills.
  • Lifeline | www.lifeline.co.za | 0861 322 322
  • ChildLine | www.childlinesa.org.za | 0800 055 555

  • Kootbodien, T., Naicker, N., Wilson, K. S., Ramesar, R., & London, L. (2020). Trends in Suicide Mortality in South Africa, 1997 to 2016. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(6), 1850. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17061850
  • Nguse, S., & Wassenaar, D. (2021). Mental health and COVID-19 in South Africa. South African Journal of Psychology, 51(2), 304-313. https://doi.org/10.1177/00812463211001543
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