People speak in hushed voices about it and those affected by mental illness may end up being prejudiced and isolated in social circles and workplaces.
But a new online portal called Let’s Talk aims to break the stigma surrounding mental illness and to make treatment more accessible to psychiatric patients around the country.
Launched by generic pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics this month to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month, the Let’s Talk portal encourages individuals to open up and share their struggles with mental illness in a safe space, with trained psychiatrists offering support and encouraging sufferers to take active steps towards their recovery.
The portal offers psychotherapy in the form of videos and webinars, goal-setting advice and alternative therapy options such as nutrition and exercise.
Shouqat Mugjenker, mental health portfolio manager for Pharma Dynamics, says there is a dire need for digital interventions in this space as the country’s mental health-care system is falling short.
“In many cultures, mental illness remains a taboo subject and the shame associated with these conditions often derails any attempt to seek help.
"Even when people reach out, family or friends may respond with disinterest or rejection due to lack of understanding. Our platform plays a critical role in connecting sufferers with a community of medical professionals, which includes psychiatrists, psychologists and nutritionists, along with fellow patients whom they can relate to and draw strength from," says Mugjenker.
The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) estimates that one in five people will suffer from mental illness in their lives.
Yo-TV child star and presenter Sade Giliberti is one of the many celebrities who have been vocal about their mental health battles. On the portal, as part of helping others speak out, she shares her journey of depression. “Everything around me always seems so dark No one else around me feels sadness like I do. I can’t express this feeling with anybody else because they just won’t understand. These thoughts are normal to people who suffer from depression.”
She moved to the UK a few years ago and has been doing photography, acting and voice-overs. She has also been part of a London-based web series raising awareness of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex) issues.
Giliberti also spoke of her life as a child with depression and how difficult it was to understand what was going on, to the point that she started to harm herself.
“I took a butter knife to harm my wrist. I must have been about seven or eight years old it was around that time when I first had suicidal thoughts,” she said.
Mugjenker says psychiatric patients tend to focus only on one form of treatment, but sometimes a combination of therapies is what is needed in addition to living a healthy life.
"The platform demands honesty. We want people to share from the heart. No change can come about if people hide behind masks,” Mugjenker adds.