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.

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.