With October 10 being World Mental Health Day, it is a good reminder to think about mental health. Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common forms of mental illness, with depression affecting about 1 in 15 adults in any given year while one in six people will experience depression at some time in their life.
Last month was also Suicide Prevention Awareness month, which is quite closely linked to issues of mental health. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) reported recently that they now handle 2,200 calls a day on their national suicide hotline, up hugely from 600 before Covid struck.
This is not particularly surprising. Covid brought unprecedented changes to our lives, many of which have only made conditions worse for those at risk of depression or anxiety. Job losses, deaths of loved ones, enforced isolation and uncertainty have increased hugely and together create something of a perfect storm for anxiety and depression.
Social isolation is a very big risk factor for depression. Fortunately, restrictions have eased up, but the risk of isolation remains. Far more people now work from home and social interaction has been limited. Simple things like a hug from a friend or a smile from a passing stranger in the street are far less likely in our current times of social distancing and wearing masks in public.
Human beings are social creatures after all. Introverts feel it less strongly, but we all need social interaction and we crave physical contact. For example, think about people who are in prison. Even when surrounded by murderers, rapists and other dangerous criminals, the worst punishment that can be given to a prisoner is to put them into solitary confinement.
Studying online is also far less social than traditional contact classes, but thanks to technology you can still stay connected with people over long distances. It is also important to realise that you are not alone. Should you find yourself struggling, there are support services in place for Wits students as well as other services for the general public.
Anxiety and depression are complicated things and symptoms and experiences range from mild to very severe. This article is in no way a substitute for advice and counselling from a trained mental health professional, but we can help point you in the right direction.
Before we go further it is useful to define what we are talking about, as the words depression and anxiety get used in many different contexts. Depression refers to a single illness and it is classified as a mood disorder. Anxiety refers to an entire class or group of conditions. Included under the umbrella of anxiety disorders are generalised anxiety, social anxiety specific phobias and some others.
Depression is characterised by feelings of despondency and overwhelming sadness. It is an actual clinical condition and not something that someone can just snap out of. It affects women more than men and usually first occurs between the mid-teens and the mid-20s.
Anxiety is an overwhelming worry or stress related to the feeling that something bad is going to happen. Some common anxiety disorders are generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder (and anxiety attacks), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Depression is caused by a mix of social, psychological and biological factors. Certain people are genetically more prone to depression and it is more likely to occur to people who’ve gone through an adverse life event, such as the death of a loved one or losing a job.
These are some of the common symptoms of depression:
- low mood, feeling sad, irritable or angry
- loss of energy to do certain things
- losing interest or enjoyment in activities you used to enjoy
- reduced concentration,
- becoming tired more easily
- disturbed sleep and loss of appetite
- loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
- feeling guilty or worthless.
Anxiety can manifest in various different specific disorders, with their own subtle differences. These are some of the broader warning signs and symptoms that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
- inability to concentrate
- rumination or obsessive thought patterns
- panic attacks
- changes in appetite
For severe cases of anxiety or depression, you should definitely consult a health professional. There are, however some changes you can make to your lifestyle to help you cope with milder cases or to reduce your risk of experiencing either in the first place.
- Improve your diet
- Get enough regular exercise
- Improve your sleep habits to get enough sleep each night
- Spend time with other people, especially if they can offer emotional support
- Interact with pets and animals
- Reduce the use of alcohol and tobacco
- For anxiety, reducing or removing caffeine can be beneficial.
- For depression, spending time with enjoyable leisure activities can help.
The Wits Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU) provides an incredible amount of support for students. The unit offers career guidance, personal counselling and a host of other services related to student life and overcoming common difficulties. The unit also offers good advice for dealing with anxiety as well as useful information on various health and well-being subjects.
- Student counselling
- Steps to get counselling
- Mental & emotional health resources
- Student crisis app
- 24 hour Lifeline: 011 728 1347 or 0861 322 322
- Crisis Line: 0800 111 331
National support services
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) offers a range of services, with several hotlines for the general public as well as for students.
- Speak to a trained counsellor on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week)
- Call the SADAG Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393
Links for various support services and groups can be found at: Healthsites.org.za.
You can use this site to find therapists operating in your area: Therapyroute.com.