The Importance of Mental (Brain) Health

October as a whole is known as mental health awareness month. The 10th of  October specifically is the day we remember the impact that mental illness has had on us, our loved ones and those we don’t know but may suspect may be suffering from brain diseases. On this day we The Ones who are aware and have seen the devastation that mental (brain) illness has had in our lives if unmanaged run workshops, give talks and try our level best to attract funding for this very important cause, yet silent killer pandemic.

So, what is mental Health? Mental health talks to how our brain is wired  which then impacts how we think, how we feel, how we see the world  and how we behave each day. How healthy our brain is or said differently our mental health also directs how we make  decisions,  how we cope with stress and how we relate to others in our lives.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), 1 in 3 South Africans has a mental illness. This translates for roughly 20 million people, a third of  people in our country experiencing some form of mental illness. Mental illness occurs in all classes, all cultures and all races.

We know that 9% of all teenage deaths are due to suicide, 90% of that 9% who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. What is worse is that 75% of people who have a serious or moderate illness will not receive any treatment. In 2017 the Psychiatry Management group reported that depression alone costs South Africa R232 billion or 5.7% of the GDP due to lost productivity either due to absence from work or attending work whilst ill.

Why don’t we know much about mental illness when it is has such a devastating effect on our country? The world over when one has a physical illness like cancer, or diabetes, society tends to be very kind to the sufferers often offering help, using caring words to describe the illness. Mental illness on the other hand has attracted very negative descriptions such as “losing your mind”; “madness” being “crazy” “looney” these negative labels have led stigmatization of people suffering from mental. Often the view has been that when you have a mental illness you either have caused it yourself, or you were badly brought up or even bewitched and many more such explanations. This type of shaming has been keen in forcing discussions on mental illness underground and it suffers being  very isolated and blamed rather than supported.

But what we do know is that the ability to understand brain disorders, and the journey to being healthy emotionally can promote productivity and effectiveness at work it improves our ability to harness healthy relationships and connections which we need to survive, and it allows us to adapt to changes in our life and cope with adversity.

The Space Between us powered by Telkom BCX is bringing you the beginnings of such a journey. Whether you are feeling a little uncertain given the pandemic or any other concern you are one of the fortunate South Africans who is being given the opportunity to grow your skills to harness your mental health.

During the pandemic days have not had the same meaning as they had before, time seems to bleed from one hour to the next, there is monotony in the day this can be hard – here are five tips which you can keep in mind during this time to improve your mental well-being start changing your brain to changing your mood –

  1. Notice what you like more than what you don’t – for instance focus on the good rather than negative news which only serves keep your brain wired – where you bring your attention determines how you feel. This takes training.
  2. Disinfect your thinking – those automatic negative thoughts of sad mad nervous -write down the down then ask yourself is it true
  3. Get connected to positive people – this connection is amazing for your own neural pathways
  4. Know your purpose – seeing that your life has meaning beyond your own is possibly one of the best ways to improve your mood and mental well being
  5. Protect your pleasure centres in the brain, when something good happens your brain releases dopamine – but the more you only seek pleasure the more these centres are worn. So, do everything in moderation, limit over stimulation your brain with  exercise, magnesium, omegas, zinc, green tea happy food foods such as pumpkin seeds and good sleep

Furthermore, you can hear more about this and get skills to cope on many more mental health topics.

Speaking to Medical Professionals

Hello everyone my name is Linda Mthenjane. I am a clinical psychologist and an Imago Relationship therapist practicing from Rivonia.

How do we as South Africans even begin to thank you for this heeding this courageous call to stand in the front lines’ day in and day out and use your own body as human shields. The only way I can possibly think of is to say to you when I heard the quote that said – wherever the art of medicine is practiced with love there also do we find a love for humanity. That is what we call Ubuntu bangepela. As my kids would say – “You Rock!” Thank you thank you thank you.

So today we going to be talking about what undoubtedly you may be feeling as you ride this chaotic wave called COVID19. But what I want to focus on specifically is what I believe you can do to help you feel like you are keeping afloat. There are three key elements that I will be touching on. Firstly self-care – as I am sure you have heard said – you can’t pour from an empty cup – you must take care of yourself first. Secondly the space between us and our loved ones and or colleagues that we depend on are sacred. Especially during this time how our relationships whether with family or collogues need special care, because this is the well of goodness we want to be able to dip into from time to time to feel safe to feel affirmed and yes to feel loved. Lastly, I would like to touch very lightly on purpose, your purpose, your and yourself in relation to more than just your immediate surrounding, because the legacy you are building the history you are busy writing is something precious which from time to time I need you to remember. What is the meaning of all this?

So very often as medical professionals we are not expected to have normal human feelings – psychologists are not supposed to have bad marriages or their children are not supposed to be depressed, doctors are not supposed to be afraid or sad or powerless or out of control. But we know that the saying that doctor heal thine self-did not come from midair – probably came from the heavy omnipotent expectations’ society and our friends our families and even we ourselves have put on our shoulders. And often this means we don’t really have room to be vulnerable and really show and feel what we are being exposed to. So, I want us to start undoing this myth of omnipotence. Around you people are getting more and more sick this is the reality you are surrounded with


  1. Breathing and come into the present

So, first things first I’m just going to take a deep breadth with all of you and I encourage you to do the same, because this here want us to just close your eyes and take a deep breadth through your nose and breadth through your mouth. Let’s breathe again deeply through your nosex2. What is the point of this talk – is that we have to learn to ride this wave for as long as possible for brief time in our lives this is the new normal.

That’s what you must do from time to time during the day especially when you are feeling totally overwhelmed. Find a place, even a clean loo and just breathe just take 5 minutes to breathe. You know that slowing down your body in this way is the first step brining yourself back to your body.

For those who already have a prayer or stillness ritual, or mediate this one will be very easy for you.

Once again breathe – look around the room and name 5 things that you see – a well-worn bed, a brown filing cabinet, my white coat, my cold stethoscope, a picture of my Oath. Realize that in this present moment nothing you anticipated, you not sick, your children are not sick, your parents are safe. I have found that this really helps to lessen the negative feeling.

  1. Feel the feeling & Self Soothe

So how are you feeling? How are you really feeling? People often say stressed or anxious or depressed? What does that look like? What does it feel like in your body? Let’s ditch the big word and get back to basics. How are you really?

Sad for the loss of the world we knew, a world where physically touching a patient who was sad can bring a light to their eyes, routine of ward rounds?

Scared of this open tenderness when will it all end and will I be there when it does? I am having nightmares of walking into a ward of coughing people? Will there be enough masks tomorrow? What will happen to my family financially if I do get sick and am quarantined?

Guilty about putting your family through this, or not being there for your children during this time? I am sort of a pariah in my family – I am dipping myself in the swamp every day,

Excited yet guilty when you leave the hospital to go to your safe resting place? Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of sick people to be looked after? Because when you name it, you can feel it and it moves through you? Did I wash my hands that time?

Angry to be away from your loved ones? Should I tell my partner where all the passwords are just in case….

Emotions need motion. It is important we acknowledge name what we go through. Not in relation to anyone else, not in comparison to anyone else but simply our feeling. Your work therefore in self-care is to feel your sadness and fear and anger. If we allow the feeling to happen and not fight or deny what we feel in our bodies this will empower us. Then we are not victims, but just normal human beings.

Does 2 things calm you and helps you move towards acceptance. This is my new normal this is what I have to do to cope.

  1. Balance your thinking by staying in the present

When you feel any of these intense feeling’s chances are your mind is racing you many even experiences what David Kessler called anticipatory grief. It’s that feeling you get when the future is uncertain, and what you then begin to do is paint with future with worst case scenarios. I have seen this time again in my rooms when clients say they have an anxiety disorder. There is something bad out there – and this breaks our sense of security. This fear of danger is unfortunately all too familiar in South Africa but this time the threat is absolutely nebulous. Our children spouses getting sick and dying whilst we are not there, we falling ill and never being able to return home, you goal should not be to totally ignore the images or try to make them go away but rather if you feel the worst image taking shape make yourself immediately thereafter to think of the best-case scenario for that same image. We will all get a little sick, but my family is healthy and strong we should be fine.

  1. Let go of what you can’t Control

Focus on what you can control, washing your hands, wearing your protective gear, Acceptance of what is where we will find control.

  1. Practice self-compassion

. Embracing self as you are warts and all. 3 things (Kristin Neff)

  • Treat yourself like you would a good friend, kindly. Watch the language you use towards yourself –
  • Common humanity – imperfect that’s what being human means – shared human experience – abnormal if I don’t achieve but this connect us to others
  • Mindfulness – being what is in the present moment – stop the self-critic you don’t need it to motivate yourself – you need kindness not judgement. Self-criticism undermines our motivation.

Definitely strongly related to emotional wellbeing and sense of connectedness with others.

And that is why I think Self care is an idea worth spreading.

So good people until next time stay safe, stay present and stay sane. Remember you Rock!

World Mental Health Day (WMHD)

World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is a global event that is celebrated annually on the 10th October with the aim of reflecting on existing mental health challenges, on gaps in policies, on identifying priorities in a collaborative effort, and by unifying voices as catalysts for change. It is the only annual event of its kind dedicated to uniting global communities’ calls for action and reform in the mental health sector through local, regional and national commemorative events and programmes. Apart from raising awareness, the day also aims to create lasting change in a world where the need to restore the dignity of all people living with mental disorders is important. Since 1992, WMHD has consistently put the spotlight on mental health and highlighted experiences by societies across the world. This year, the occasion will be utilised to call for stronger resource commitments through the implementation of policies that support investing in mental health.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) supports the World Federation for Mental Health’s (WFMH) theme for WMHD on an annual basis and seeks to contextualise the theme and its relevance for South Africans. This year, WMHD comes at a point in time that no one could have foreseen 12 months ago. The theme “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment, Greater Access,” aims to address the need to promote early access to care, prevention of mental health problems and the promotion of mental wellbeing against the backdrop of COVID-19. The global pandemic has brought the need for investment in mental health into sharp focus after years of underfunding and neglect.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 50% of people with mental disorders in high-income countries do not receive treatment, while 85% of persons in low-and middle-income countries have no access to treatment. The inconsistencies and limited access to mental health treatment currently stand in South Africa’s way of satisfying the Standard Treatment Guidelines, which aims to provide quality of health for all and ensure more equitable health services for all citizens in the country. According to the WFMH, the mental health consequences of COVID-19 increased weight on the already “overburdened mental health landscape in which the number of people living with depression and or anxiety increased by nearly 50% from 416 million to 615 million”.
In South Africa, there are significant disparities in mental health personnel across provinces, with mental health services largely inaccessible to people accessing public health facilities. Personnel shortages have resulted in the Mental Health Care Act (2002) not being fully complied with and at the same time, this lack of capacity compromises care for mental health care users, especially those in desperate need of community-based mental health services to aid their recovery journeys after leaving inpatient care.

Failure to invest in mental health has resulted in constraints on global health systems and has limited access to treatment, impacting on individuals’ rights to wellness and health, which has been exacerbated by the current pandemic. This year’s WMHD theme calls on global leaders to commit to ensuring that access to treatment for people with mental health disorders is expedited and that treatment is made more readily available to all the populations.

This October, SAFMH stands in unity with organisations that are calling on governments across the globe to act swiftly in making mental healthcare a priority and ensuring that it is accessible to everyone everywhere. The investment should not only be in monetary terms, but also through support for initiatives and organisations that are already committed to mental health and the empowerment of communities through awareness campaigns. SAFMH calls on the South African government to review existing policies on mental health, empower provinces through equitable allocation of resources and commit to higher levels of spending on mental health.

SAFMH unconditionally support the call from the WFMH: “Our call is a simple one – let us hold hands and unify our voices in moving the mental health investment agenda for increased focus and access to mental health and thereby making mental health a reality for all – everyone, everywhere”. But while it is a simple call, in that what is being asked for is clear and easy to grasp, achieving it might not be that simple as it requires concerted efforts from the South African government to start placing more emphasis on mental health – in 2020 and beyond.