Normalising Mental Healthcare Must Start Today - Business Media MAGS

Sunday Times Healthy Times

Normalising Mental Healthcare Must Start Today

Elaine Brass, CEO of Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority, shares why normalising mental health is more urgent today than ever before.

October, which was Mental Health Awareness Month, put the spotlight on what is being described as a “mental health emergency” by professionals across the globe. In our own country, the statistics are shocking. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) reports that its suicide helpline has, in the last nine months, received over 2 000 calls daily from people with suicidal thoughts.

This paints a bleak picture of a persistent issue – many South Africans simply don’t have access to mental healthcare, which can provide them with immediate interventions both from a psychological and a pharmaceutical point of view.

Stumbling blocks

People are waiting too long to reach out for help. During the Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority’s (HWSETA) recent Mental Wellness Livestream series, our guest clinical psychologist Anele Siswana highlighted that South Africans don’t always know how to speak about their mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.

“The very social construct of our society does not lend itself to an understanding of mental health; how to talk about it and where to find professional help,” he said.  He also pointed out that in some communities behavioural changes due to mental health challenges are seen as demonic possession, which means that often people don’t seek help for fear of being ridiculed and shunned.

Another major stumbling block in mental healthcare is stigmatisation. The question here is: are we doing enough to fight mental health stigmatisation? Sadly, in my view, the answer is “no”. Proactive awareness and education are needed to normalise mental health awareness and challenges.

Dr Bello Alvarez, the host of the livestreams, said: “We’re dealing with both internalised and externalised stigmatisation. We need to get to a point where talking about mental health becomes almost boring. It should be normalised to a point that it forms part of everyday discussions.”

As the health and welfare SETA, we believe that conversations around topics like mental health can only help to break down these barriers. It is evident that proactive education awareness is needed: we need to talk about common disorders and how they can be treated.

Increased awareness

Fortunately, there is good news in the form of increased worldwide awareness of mental health, mainly due to the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has mitigated some of the stigmatisation. Alvarez remarked on how those in the health sector are increasingly seeing highly functional individuals coming forward with their mental health struggles, speaking openly about the daily challenges they face.

The pandemic has, if anything, provided a firm platform to have open and honest conversations with our loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Dr Bonolo Mashishi, a virologist and guest on our livestreams, offered this advice: “Define your needs for yourself and share these with those around you. We need ongoing conversations. Tell your family how you are feeling and have an authentic discussion. We’ve found that some people struggle to talk to their family members; a good starting point is to be open and honest about how you are feeling, this sets the stage for constructive conversations going forward.”

Siswana emphasised the importance of family support. “It is vital that families, armed with mental health knowledge, intervene when a loved one starts showing signs of mental health issues. Low energy, weight loss or gain and self-isolation are all red flags that need addressing.”

Normalising self-care should become commonplace in our society and the foundation for engaging in conversations and seeking help.  We live in unprecedented times, and our new normal will carry on for the foreseeable future. So, we must normalise a culture where people use psychological services and maximise their capacity for coping with stress, anxiety and depression.We must familiarise ourselves with the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges, talk openly about them and find help to strengthen our respective life journeys.


You might be interested in these articles?

You might be interested in these articles?

Sign-up and receive the Business Media MAGS newsletter OR SA Mining newsletter straight to your inbox.