Take care of your mental health
Posted on 3 February 2022
Untreated depression can lead to a poor quality of life and increases your risk of diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
With the arrival of COVID-19, we were forced to live life differently. Our homes became 24/7 offices and schools, with little room or personal space to breathe and regroup. These blurred boundaries added additional stress to an already unusual set of circumstances – and exacerbated any feelings of anxiety and fears for the future.
Dr Priscilla Reddy of the Human Sciences Research Council says the pandemic has played a significant role in the fact that people are increasingly being diagnosed with depression. “From July to December 2020, the number of South Africans screening positive for depression increased from 24% to 29%,” she says. “From November to December, two in three South Africans reported symptoms of depression every day.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health includes your emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It affects how you think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how you handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.
“Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same,” says Ronel Groenewald, a counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Kimberley. “You can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, if you’re diagnosed with a mental illness, you can still experience periods of physical, mental and social wellbeing.”
Mental health problems, including alcohol abuse, are among the 10 leading causes of disability in both developed and developing countries. The World Health Organization projects that depression will be the single biggest cause of ill health in the world by 2030.
Major depression is a common illness that severely limits psychosocial functioning and diminishes quality of life. Although effective treatment exists, including medication, therapy, and others, some who suffer from depression avoid talking about it or try to mask the problem. “Some people who are depressed may turn to alcohol or drugs, which may increase instances of reckless or abusive behaviour,” says Groenewald. “People experiencing depression may also find themselves preoccupied with thoughts of death or hurting themselves.”
Overlooking your mental health compromises your overall health. For example, depression increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk of mental illness. For example, “It’s common to feel sad or discouraged after having a heart attack, receiving a cancer diagnosis, or when trying to manage a chronic condition such as pain,” says Groenewald. “You may feel compromised by what you’re no longer able to do – such as exercising or gardening – or feel stressed about an upcoming operation, or concerned about ongoing discomfort. This can lead to depression.”
Temporary feelings of sadness, hopelessness and frustration are normal, but if these symptoms last longer than a couple of weeks, you may have depression. This is a “whole-body” illness, involving your body, mood and thoughts. “It affects the way you eat and sleep, feel about yourself, and think about things,” says Groenewald. “People with depression can’t merely ‘pull themselves together’ and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help.”
Symptoms of depression
- Persistent sad, or “empty” mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities you once enjoyed, including sex
- Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness and self-reproach
- Insomnia or hypersomnia, early morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- Decreased energy, fatigue and feeling run down
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs, may be associated, but not a criterion for diagnosis
- Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability, hostility
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Persistent physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
- Deterioration of social relationships
Does your partner or loved one suffer from depression? The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has a few suggestions:
Talk. Ask them to help you understand what they’re going through and challenge their destructive thoughts. They may feel worthless and unlovable; that’s not true – and you can help them realise this by reminding them why you love them.
Connect. Laugh with them and give them a hug. A sincere, no-strings-attached hug is known to release the body’s feel-good chemicals.
Care. Many people with depression feel overwhelmed, so create a calm environment by helping them tidy up and declutter. Depressed people also tend to either overeat or starve themselves; either way, you can help them by providing a balanced meal. Finally, take them outside. A walk in the fresh air and sunshine will boost their body’s depression-fighting Vitamin D production and might give them space to start talking about what they’re going through.
For more information, go to sadag.org
If you think you require additional support, contact your healthcare provider.