News | 17 Oct 2023
A time to raise our collective consciousness about the importance of mental well-being and challenge the stigma surrounding mental health issues. This year, we must stress the importance of mental health as a crucial component of our overall health and wellbeing and as a human right deserving of the same consideration and care as physical health. Let’s explore the essential elements of mental health in light of this, concentrating on young people, societal perspectives, and the context of mental health in South Africa.
The Unseen Struggles of Young People
The statistics are stark: at least 90% of young people aged 15-24 who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness. Half of all mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, manifest before the age of 14. Despite these alarming numbers, most cases go undetected and untreated. The mental health of our young population is at risk, mental health is becoming a public health problem and it’s our collective responsibility to ensure they receive the help they need.
To truly appreciate the significance of International Mental Health Month, we must distinguish between mental health and mental illness. Mental health encompasses a state of overall well-being, where individuals feel positive about life, are physically healthy, and can cope with life’s challenges. Mental illness, on the other hand, refers to specific conditions or disorders that affect one’s mental well-being.
It is also important to know that a person can have periods of poor mental health while still dealing with a diagnosed mental disorder. People can be affected by mental health issues regardless of their precise condition. Therefore, it is key to address both dimensions and help those in need.
Throughout history, the understanding of mental health and illness has been influenced by social, cultural, and other factors. Misconceptions and negative stereotypes have perpetuated harmful attitudes towards those with mental health conditions. Pervasive negative attitudes about mental health devalue and perpetuate discrimination and abuse against people living with mental health conditions. The theme for the International Mental Health Month 2023 is Mental in the context of Human Rights, thus It is crucial to challenge misconceptions about mental health and promote accurate, empathetic portrayals of mental health conditions. This approach provides an environment of acceptance, human dignity, free from abuse and discrimination of those who struggle with mental health.
The five most common mental health disorders are depression, anxiety, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia, and substance abuse related disorders. These conditions can be challenging, but they are treatable. With the right early interventions, support, and care, people living with these disorders can live happy lives and efficiently control their symptoms. In addition to addressing stigma, highlighting these disorders’ treatability promotes early diagnosis and care, improving the mental health of persons who are afflicted. It reminds us that recovery and well-being are possible for everyone dealing with mental health challenges.
The State of Mental Health in South Africa
In South Africa, many businesses evaluate how to tackle the issue of employee mental well-being in the context of absenteeism or medical aid requests. COVID-19 may have resulted in a more holistic focus on mental health in the workplace, but it is simply one aspect among many that leads to workplace mental health difficulties. Rising job instability, increased automation, rapid technology breakthroughs, and high employment demands are among those specifically connected to the workplace. According to SADAG, only one out of every six employees is likely to disclose their mental health issues at work. The barrier to accessing mental health support is exacerbated by the fact that there is still a major stigma connected to mental health.
Misunderstandings about mental health can be a problem in South Africa. Some people wrongly believe that having a mental health condition means you’re weak or not tough. South Africans tend to think mental health problems only happen in Western countries and not in their context. Biomedical interventions are also prioritised for mental health interventions, rather than traditional medicine. People with mental health issues are regarded unstable, violent and dangerous, thus are isolated from society. Mental health issues are also associated with women, than with men which further shuns men from tending to their emotional wellbeing. We should challenge these misconceptions and ensure everyone understands the importance.
Remember that mental health is a universal human right, not a privilege. Every individual has the right to mental well-being and access to mental health support and resources, just as we all have the right to physical well-being and access to healthcare. It is a fundamental aspect of our humanity. We should acknowledge this right to build a more inclusive and caring society, this will help us break down the barriers that frequently prevent people from seeking treatment, prioritise mental health resources and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to live a full and mentally healthy life.
Edited by Kgahliso Mangoale