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World Mental Health Day

By Sean Neveling - Intern Educational Psychologist

South African’s are faced with daily reminders of emotional, social, and economic stressors, which greatly impact our day-to-day functioning. The impending fourth industrial revolution has stoked the fires of unemployment and financial instability for thousands of families, which globally impacts psychological health. Sadly, this is oft repeated but rarely addressed in a meaningful way. For many South Africans, regardless of their employment status and degree of financial security, life is riddled with anxiety, influenced by the persistent threat of crime, inhumane violence, and limited access to much needed services. Many South Africans experience life through the lens of prejudice, finding that discrimination based on gender, race, and county of origin inform their interactions with others and limit their access to various forms of support.

Among the various social media campaigns which have emerged among South Africa’s more active online communities are those calling for an end to university fees, and end to corruption, an end to gender-based violence, even an end to high data prices. It would be easy, in this sea of discontent, to lose sight of one of the most significant by products of our ill health as a society, our mental health. For South Africans regardless of generation, mental health has taken a backseat to what are almost certainly viewed as more pertinent concerns. At first glance this may seem practical, in a society characterised by want and poverty, the ability to focus on one’s mental health must seem a luxury, but this perception is unhelpful at best, dangerous at worst.

South Africans young and old, rich and poor, regardless of race and gender find themselves traumatised by crime, depressed and anxious by a seemingly nationwide endemic of political and economic hopelessness and unable to establish meaningful and supportive relationships due to negligence or paternal absence. It is in times of great societal strife that we must consider our mental health more rigorously. One would scarcely need to look far to find links between mental health and chronic illnesses such as Hypertension and even Diabetes, the leading cause of death among South Africans. Anxiety and depression can very easily exacerbate existing illnesses, including HIV.

This leads us to the questions of what does it mean to be “aware” of mental health? To be aware of mental health is to acknowledge its importance, to acknowledge those things that might compromise it and to acknowledge the necessity of preserving it. To become aware of mental health, South Africa needs to be aware of the warning signs of poor mental health and be able to access the resources around them, be it those of a counsellor or psychologist. For South Africans, however, this step towards awareness and acknowledgement is tougher than it would appear. Before we can orientate ourselves towards our own mental health we need to orientate ourselves away from a societal perception of mental ill health which is punctuated by ignorance and stigma. For many South Africans struggling with mental health, their difficulties are accompanied not by support from their family and community, but by degradation and isolation.

Caring about another’s mental health goes hand-in-hand with caring for our own. Let our journey towards mental health awareness therefore begin with an awareness of one another as a community to be respected and preserved regardless of need. We call onto all stakeholders to make mental health a priority, and to acknowledge that until our collective needs for safe, secure, and healthy lives are met, we will continue to battle the challenges posed by the world in which we live.

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