Mental Health: Taking Care Of Yours In 2018

2018 is an excellent year to start afresh. But, while the calendar may have re-set, your mental wellbeing doesn’t always snap into place just because you’d like it to. Like physical health, your mental health requires constant and deliberate self-care. And this starts with understanding just how important self-care really is. The 5th biannual Global Summit on mental health, which this year took place at Wits University in Johannesburg, placed emphasis on self-care as a tool to fight this major societal issue. 

“You will never change where you are, until you decide where you want to be.”

We may talk about mental and physical health as two separate things but, in reality, they’re interconnected. Felicity Pienaar, an Occupational Therapist at Akeso Clinic in Nelspruit, explains that patients with poor mental health often lack energy and feel too unwell to take care of their basic needs, like healthy eating, quality sleep, and exercise. Further, she says anxiety and stress can lead to physical complaints, like headaches, back and neck pain, and insomnia.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (2018), people with serious mental health conditions run a high risk of experiencing chronic physical conditions, but people with chronic physical conditions are also at risk of poor mental health. What this suggests is that mental and physical health are so interlinked, it’s impossible to separate them. No wonder the World Health Organization (2016) says “there is no health without mental health”.

Mental health is also included in the social development goals for 2030. Specifically, goal 3 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. World leaders have committed to “prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases, including behavioral, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development”. Want to find out more? Click on the link

The current mental health epidemic isn’t only on the individual level. Pienaar says there are several societal behaviors that also have an impact. We’re seeing this in three major ways:

 1. Fast and slow lifestyles

 Our desk-bound lifestyles mean we’re not getting the exercise our bodies and minds need. Couple that with fast food, a technologically enhanced culture of instant gratification, long working hours, and smart-phone-diluted leisure time, and we’re starting to resemble lab rats.

 2. Moral degradation

Society’s growing desensitisation to things like infidelity, materialism, and disrespect for others, is contributing to serious emotional harm. In fact, researcher, Richard Eckersley (2006) says that “materialism is associated, not with happiness, but with dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, anger, isolation, and alienation.”

3. The overuse of tech

Perhaps the most dangerous (yet largely under-addressed) habit we’re practising daily is overusing our smart-phones and computers. Psychiatrist and author Victoria L. Dunckley (2014) says this is a problem because overexposure to screens can have a significant effect on our brain’s structure and function – especially in the frontal lobe. This area of the brain undergoes massive changes until the mid-twenties, and is said to impact on all areas of life – from relationships to career and academic success.

Symptoms to look out for: 

About a third of the South African population will suffer from a mental disorder in their adult lives, says Africa Check (2014). Pienaar says the most common conditions seen at Akeso include mood disorders like depression, substance abuse, bipolar mood disorder, or those suffering from symptoms related to anxiety and stress. Typical symptoms can include:

·         chronic fatigue

·         impulsive behaviour

·         low or fluctuating moods

·         poor interpersonal relationships

·         disinterest in most aspects of life

Managing mental self-care

Apart from critical professional guidance, there are many physical and mental behaviors you can adopt to help improve your psychological wellbeing. Pienaar recommends:

1. Exercising

2. Getting enough sleep

3. Spending time alone

4. Connecting with family and friends

5. Practicing deep, calming breathing

6. Spending less time using electronic devices

7. Forgiving yourself when you make mistakes

8. Paying attention to and expressing your feelings

9. Limiting your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and other drugs

10. Taking prescribed medication, even when your symptoms improve

While these are helpful first steps, it’s important to note that nothing compares to professional support – especially if your symptoms affect your life and those around you.

Where and how to get help

It’s not easy to jump-start your mental wellbeing, but at least you don’t have to do it alone. There are people who are ready and willing to guide and support you through it. Call them.

Want to learn more? Click here for one mans story of depression and how he overcame his condition.