Mind / 15 July 2019, 10:00am / Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi
Mention mental health, and it still conjures up different images and solicits different reactions from people.
The number of individuals experiencing mental illness around the world continues to grow.
Some are diagnosed while others hide their condition because of fear of being ostracised by their community and the shame that society has attached to it.
For young people especially, it’s a challenge. Yonwabisa Booi (not her real name), 29, said she suffered panic attacks for years but chose to hide the condition. The problem worsened as she started working and being entrusted with more responsibility.
“I’d never told people about my problem until I had a breakdown at work. I was scared they’d not understand or even worse: I wouldn’t be entrusted with work,” said Booi.
Even though her manager knows what she battles with, she’s still not comfortable with her peers knowing her condition.
That’s why Panic Awareness Day observed on Wednesday was important. The day was committed to raising awareness and providing support for this treatable condition that affects many South Africans.
Clinical psychologist Dr Colinda Linde said that during a panic attack, the individual usually thinks something like: “I’m having a heart attack” or “I’m going insane”, but may not be aware of how those thoughts affect, even exacerbate, the attack’s symptoms.
South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) founder Zane Wilson, who herself experienced panic attacks, encourages people to speak out. “Remember that attacks always end. Panic isn’t dangerous. Don’t let panic win - you can take back control of your life,” said Wilson.
Statistics released in May by the World Health Organisation revealed that globally, an estimated 264 million people suffered from depression, which is one of the leading causes of disability. Most of those suffering from depression also suffer from symptoms of anxiety.
Dr Dessy Tzoneva, a clinical psychologist, said mental health conditions are not a sign of weakness, badness or indulgence, despite the stigma that exists.
“These are health conditions like any other. Life can bring painful challenges and traumas that leave scars, even though we may not be able to see them. That doesn’t make them any less real. If you’re suffering in silence, know that you needn’t.
“Reach out, ask for help! These conditions can be treated, you can enjoy better mental health.”
She said the most common mental health conditions in South Africa are anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders and mood disorders (including depression).
Treatment for mental health conditions often includes a combination of medication, psychotherapy, programmes for addiction recovery, social support groups, and assistance with specific challenges by occupational therapists, dieticians and social workers. At times, psychiatric hospitalisation may be necessary.