Are you okay?
October 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day to remind us of both the importance of mental health and the struggles that many people face daily. It is also a good opportunity to take a step back and ask yourself, “Am I okay?”.
As the saying goes, it’s okay to not feel okay. If you feel that you are struggling, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There is support available, for both the general public as well as for UJ students.
The last 18 months have been tough for everyone. Covid and the resulting lockdowns brought massive changes to everyone’s life. A silver lining of the recent lockdown is that the stigma around anxiety and depression has become much less than it was in previous years.
Addressing and removing the stigma around mental health is especially important. As with any disease, the fear of being shunned by society or discriminated against at work can discourage people from seeking proper treatment. This means that many people hide their depression or anxiety. In some cases, they do it so well that people are shocked to learn of their internal struggles.
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. We will cover the signs of both depression and anxiety, some of the types of anxiety disorder, tips for reducing the risk and where you can get help.
Before we go further, it is useful to define what we are talking about. The words depression and anxiety get used in many different contexts and the meaning of depression as we use it is not quite the same as clinical depression. 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, phobias and some others that we will list later
Depression is characterised by feelings of despondency and overwhelming sadness. Anxiety is an overwhelming worry or stress related to the feeling that something bad is going to happen.
Depression is caused by a “complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors” and is more likely to occur among people who’ve gone through an adverse life event, such as the death of a loved one or losing a job. Covid has greatly increased the chances of experiencing such an event, meaning more people are at risk.
- feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem or low confidence
- thoughts of death or suicide
Anxiety is a little more complicated than depression as it can manifest in various different specific disorders, which we’ll go into later. Generally speaking these are some of the warning signs and symptoms.
- Inability to concentrate
- Rumination or obsessive thought patterns
- Panic attacks
- Changes in appetite
Only a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose a person with an anxiety disorder, so it is important to see your doctor if you feel that you suffer from any of the following.
Generalised anxiety disorder:
People with generalised anxiety disorder display extreme anxiety across a range of situations and it affects them over a long time. Normally we can return to a calm state after dealing with a stressful event, but for people suffering from a generalised anxiety disorder, the state of agitation does not go away.
Common symptoms include:
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Physical and mental fatigue
- Short-tempered or irritable
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
Social anxiety disorder:
People with social anxiety disorder have a general, intense fear of social situations. Their intense fear of embarrassment often causes them to avoid public places or social events.
You might have a social anxiety disorder if you are afraid of the following:
- Enclosed spaces
- Wide open spaces
- Public transportation
- Being in crowded places
- Leaving your home alone
People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated anxiety attacks usually lasting for several minutes or longer. Panic or anxiety attacks are categorised by a fear of losing control even when there is no real danger. The physical feeling of panic disorder is compared to the feeling of having a heart attack.
Signs of an anxiety attack:
- Trembling or shaking
- Feelings of imminent doom
- Feelings of being out of control
- Shortness of breath; feelings of suffocation
- Rapid heart rate and sweating
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD):
People who suffer from OCD experience unreasonable thoughts and fears that lead to repetitive, compulsive behaviours. Common examples of OCD behaviour include excessive fear of germs or the need to arrange objects in a specific manner or carry out a task in a certain order.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
PTSD is a mental health condition caused by the inability to fully recover from a traumatic event. Soldiers and rape victims are two examples of likely PTSD sufferers. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
A phobia is an intense and irrational fear of a thing or situation. It is appropriate to be fearful of certain situations and things, such as venomous snakes, but a phobia is when the level of fear is completely disproportionate to the danger. There are many different phobias, but some common ones include snakes, spiders and needles.
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 those who 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 Centre for Psychological Services and Career Development (PsyCaD) provides a variety of support services to students, including counselling and a 24 hour crisis line. they offer telephonic counselling as well as sessions over video chat platforms such as Zoom, Skype or MS Teams.
Visit the PsyCaD – Counselling page for more info and details.
- Counselling services: 011 559 3106
- Crisis line: 082 054 1137 (operates 24 hours a day)
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
You can use this site to find therapists operating in your area: Therapyroute.com.
Links, by province, for various support services including rape and abuse survival, HIV, TB and general support groups can be found at Healthsites.org.za.