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The Stigma that Surrounds Mental Health Problems/ Illnesses

According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
“Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

We regarded mental conditions as something separate from our overall health for too long and detached the mind from the body. According to Bernard J. Tyson, CEO, Kaiser Permanente, “We face an epidemic of mental health problems that cuts across borders, economies, and cultures, and it carries a stigma that leaves people suffering in silence.” As a result, millions of people needing mental health support have been ignored, with a dramatic impact on economic resources, productivity, and output.

In reality, mental and physical health are closely connected with each other and contributes to our overall well-being. In order for future generations to have a more prosperous and happier life, we have to admit this and start focussing on the root cause of a condition that should be recognised more seriously.

Efforts to tackle major global problems such as mental health, must be collaborative and sustainable in order to succeed. In this spirit, Tyson urged leaders to join him in considering the adoption of four critical priorities to support mental health and wellness.

  1. Reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace.
    We need to acknowledge mental health and wellness issues at work, schools, communities and in our homes in order to make a difference. Ignoring or keeping quiet about a condition that can be treated and even prevented in some cases, is not a solution. Focusing on mental health care should be as routine as seeking treatment for high blood pressure, diabetes, or a heart condition.
  2. Reduce mental health discrimination.
    We need to realise that lower-income communities are often at great risk of pathology and face obstacles to getting care. This is in part due to a lack of specialised resources, compared to wealthier areas. Communities need to find innovative ways to address this problem. Tyson acknowledged one such idea as Zimbabwe’s Friendship Bench, which delivers “talk therapy” intervention to people with mild to moderate level common mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, through a professional health team.
  3. Health systems must shift from “sick-care” to “well-care.”
    We need to understand how to counteract and improve the effects of hostile childhood experiences, which are highly associated with poor mental and physical health later in life. By doing this, we pursue prevention as the most efficient approach. Nurturing, rather than treating neglect or trauma, will be the key to better mental health for future generations and is something that will not be found in hospitals or clinics, but in our own communities and homes.
  4. Redouble efforts to connect the mind and body.
    Tyson states that by better integrating mental health services into primary care systems, we can show that a mental health condition is no different from a respiratory, endocrine, or heart issue. In other words, people who need treatment beyond what can be delivered in primary care, should be able to see a specialist in the same way they would be referred to an orthopaedist or cardiologist.

A healthy mind is just as important to our overall health as a healthy heart and strong bones.

What is the World’s Biggest Mental Health Problem?

While depression is the condition most will associate with mental health issues, it is not the number one mental health concern people face, even though it is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Believe it or not, the culpability for the biggest mental health problem goes to anxiety.

According to Sean Flemming, Senior Writer of Formative Content, an estimated 275 million people suffer from anxiety disorders.

This is what the statistics look like:

  • 4% of the global population, with a spread of between 2.5% and 6.5% of the population per country.
  • 62% are female (170 million), compared to 38% (105 million) male sufferers.

Conscious Discipline and What the Experts Say

Head of Paediatrics at the University of the Free State, Professor Andre Venter, has said that South Africa has the highest levels of anxiety in children in the world and it is on the increase. This is why experts believe stress-management techniques should be built into the school curriculum.

Mandy Herold, Head of Junior Preparatory at The Ridge School, advocates a system of teaching behaviour called Conscious Discipline, which is a series of skills to help children problem-solve and stay on task. But in order for children to have the ability to learn these skills they need to feel safe and loved.

Seven skills of Conscious Discipline

  1. Composure results in being able to manage anger and delay gratification, which leads to the development of integrity.
  2. Encouragement develops social skills, kindness, caring and helpfulness, which leads to interdependence, optimism and gratitude.
  3. Assertiveness helps with preventing bullying and creates healthy boundaries, leading to respect for the self and others.
  4. Choices help to guard against acting on impulse and assists to achieve goals, which encourages persistence.
  5. Empathy helps regulate emotions and gain perspective, teaching children to honour diversity and value honesty.
  6. Positive intent aids problem-solving and cooperation, which increases compassion and acts of generosity.
  7. Consequence helps children learn from their mistakes and act responsibly.

Anxiety checklist

  • Eating habits: Are they eating more or less than usual?
  • Sleeping habits: Are they not sleeping, or waking often during the night?
  • School performance: Have their grades declined, or are they not handing in assignments?
  • Change in behaviour: Are they acting out at home or school? Are they getting into fights or talking back frequently?
  • Moods: Do they seem angry or irritable?
  • Somatic complaints: Somatic symptom disorder is characterised by multiple persistent physical complaints that are associated with excessive and maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviours related to those symptoms. The symptoms are not intentionally produced or feigned and may or may not accompany known medical illness. In other words, are they saying their stomach hurts, or they have a headache, or feel sick with no obvious signs of illness or pain?

Support and Resources

Cipla’s mental health partner, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), have an excess of resources across various channels available to help people cope with mental health pressures.

Here are some helpful tips from SADAG to reduce stress:

  1. Maintain a daily routine.
  2. Acknowledge your feelings and focus on things you can control.
  3. Find things to keep you busy (whether it’s constructive or creative) and to help lift your mood.
  4. Stay connected with your loved ones.
  5. If you’re on medication, remember to take it as prescribed.

Whether you are helping a friend, or need help yourself, you can call the Cipla SADAG’s 24-hour mental health helpline on 0800 456 789 or send a message via WhatsApp on 076 882 2775 between 9am – 5pm.

Mental health (World Health Organisation, Bernard J. Tyson, CEO, Kaiser Permanente, Sean Flemming, Senior Writer of Formative Content, Professor Andre Venter, Head of Paediatrics, University of the Free State, Mandy Herold, Head of Junior Preparatory at The Ridge School) Accessed June 2020

Although this document has been prepared with due care and in good faith, the interpretations and opinions are those of the authors and are subject to change without notice. As such, the contents do not constitute definitive advice and should not be accepted as such. Neither Simeka Heatlh (Pty) Ltd nor the authors accept liability for any damage whatsoever or however it may arise, including but not limited to, direct, indirect or consequential loss that may arise as a result of sole reliance on the information herein. Competent professional advice should be sought when dealing with any contentious issue. Simeka Health (Pty) Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sanlam.



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