Most of us know all too well the profound impact that neglecting our mental health can have on our physical wellbeing and overall quality of life, exacerbating existing physical health issues and giving rise to new ones.
Mental illnesses like anxiety and depression are often referred to as invisible diseases, but experts caution that physical changes in the body can be indicators of untreated or undetected mental health problems. Psychiatrists and GPs working with community mental health organisation Rhiza Babuyile report encountering numerous cases of this nature among patients in communities and clinics nationwide.
"Mental illness is not merely 'all in the mind'; rather, it is a physical manifestation of neurological and chemical imbalances. The body provides various warning signs that the brain or central nervous system is in distress and requires attention," explains Katlego Assis, Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) and Projects Manager at Rhiza Babuyile.
One of the most common signs of acute mental illness is a significant fluctuation in blood pressure or blood sugar levels. This highlights the importance of monitoring and maintaining mental health alongside practising good physical health habits, as they ultimately influence and intertwine with each other.
While it may appear that more and more people are experiencing depression and anxiety, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic, the issue runs much deeper than these two categories. There is a wide range of common mental disorders, some of which have more severe impacts on quality of life than others. Unfortunately, individuals suffering from these conditions often receive less attention due to the associated stigma.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental disorders are the leading cause of disability. While not all individuals with mental illness are disabled, some conditions can become so severe that they result in disability. People with mental illness have been known to spend one out of every six years living with a disability caused by their mental health condition.
People with a genetic predisposition to mental disorders can be triggered by various environmental factors, such as financial stress, substance abuse, or traumatic events. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diagnoses of depression and anxiety increased by more than 25% in the first year of the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, however, nearly a billion people worldwide were living with a mental disorder, including 14% of adolescents. Suicide accounted for more than 1 in 100 deaths, and 58% of suicides occurred before the age of 50. Depression and anxiety alone rose by more than 25% in the first year of the pandemic.
Depression and anxiety disorders, which were previously associated primarily with women in South Africa, have gained attention for affecting a significant portion of the male population.
Although women are statistically twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety disorders, one in eight men suffer from depression, and one in five men suffer from an anxiety-related disorder, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).
Much of the suffering that comes with mental illness can be managed, alleviated, and even prevented. Regular health checks, paying attention to your body and getting professional help are important to maintain a healthy body and mind. The mind is part of the body, after all - its wellness requires daily attention and self-love too.
For more information and support, visit www.sadag.org.