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Why a change in perception is needed towards Mental Health in 2021

2020 was a year of trials and immense hardship for many with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new way of life that no one could have expected.

Suicide, which is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages, continued to soar as many felt destitute and hopeless. At the beginning of August 2020, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, in a written reply to a DA Parliamentary question in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP)1, stated that close to 1,800 people in South Africa had committed suicide in the four months following the declaration of the lockdown in March.

As we start 2021, it remains clear that there is still a lot to overcome. “Mental Health has always been critically important however, as the pandemic continues to evolve and take its toll, greater focus needs to be placed on taking care of our mental health and the mental health of those around us,” explains Johan Lombaard, Clinic Manager, Life Brackenview.  

Life Mental Health, a leading provider of mental health services through the Life Healthcare Group continues to drive awareness and education around suicide and depression to reduce the stigma and ensure early intervention. “Isolation, loss of family, financial burdens, and loss of income are all triggers to the development and exacerbation of mental health conditions that in many cases, requires medical intervention for the safety of the patient. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen that when mental health care users are admitted, the severity is much more pronounced because of a delay in seeking treatment,” says Lombaard.  

According to statistics released by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)2, as many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems. Furthermore, adolescent mental health and depression has become of particular concern over the past year due to increased screen time, isolation, extended school closures, limited social interaction with peers, and witnessing how their family deals with the negative effects of the pandemic and its impact.

Research has also shown that there is a direct link between depression and suicide and that while most people may experience diverse moods that range from sadness to loneliness, this can often become more than just a passing mood. Undiagnosed, depression can lead to tragedy.

The arrival of 2021 has brought with great apprehension for what this year will bring, with many people feeling trapped and hopeless with the challenges that this year has already presented. “COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while to come. It has shown that more emphasis is needed on creating awareness and education on mental illness to reduce stigma and ensure early intervention before someone reaches a level where they are considering self-harm or suicide, particularly in adolescents. Now more than ever, opportunity exists to destigmatise and promote a culture of acceptance of mental health that will lead the way in 2021,” says Lombaard.  

Immense strain continues to be placed on people and their mental state as they learn to adapt to the changes that have been brought about by the pandemic. Many people continue to battle with extreme mental health episodes related to COVID-19 as depression and anxiety levels increase. More time and effort must be placed on strategies that focus on mental healthcare in South Africa in tandem with the collective approach to the continued fight against the virus.

“People need to watch for behaviour changes in their children, relatives and friends, as well as older adults and people with disabilities who need to be reassured that it is common for people to feel distressed during this crisis. Family, friends and colleagues also need to be reminded that asking for and accepting help is a sign of strength,” explains Lombaard.  

Should you or a loved one be experiencing feelings of fear, anxiety or going through a depressive episode, Life Healthcare has 9 dedicated facilities in four provinces providing private psychiatric services and acute mental healthcare that can effectively treat and support patients who are taking strain.

“We need to eliminate the social stigma associated with mental health and promote a culture of acceptance. Coping mechanisms vary from person to person and an increase in psycho-social care is critical to ensure the wellbeing and livelihoods of those living with mental health conditions,” concludes Lombaard.  

Find out more about mental health therapies and treatments offered at Life Mental Health.