October is Global Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year the spotlight is on the pandemic and how mental health problems have increased in both children and adults, with enforced isolation making an already difficult situation worse.
Mental Health Awareness Month
According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) survey of 130 countries, COVID-19 has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries around the world while demand for mental health has increased. Given that, before the pandemic, the organization realized that many countries are spending less than 2% of their national health budgets on mental health and struggling to meet the needs of their populations, if ignored, the situation could get dire.
In South Africa, prior to the pandemic (2019), mental health was allocated 5% of the national health budget and only 50% of public hospitals providing mental health services had a psychiatrist and around 30% did not have a clinical psychologist.
A study by the Human Sciences Research Council during the first tough lockdown found that 33% of South Africans were depressed, while 45% were anxious and 29% were lonely during the first lockdown.
According to statistics recently published by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), one in six South Africans suffers from anxiety, depression or drug problems.
Mental health and depression in adolescents – a particular concern
Their results also show that adolescents’ mental health and depression has become a particular concern over the past year due to longer screen time, isolation, longer school closings, limited social interaction with their peers, and the negative impact the pandemic has on their families.
To support and encourage people with mental health problems and to highlight the importance of recognizing, discussing, and destigmatizing mental health, several leaders have come forward to share their own experiences.
One such leader is Yael Geffen, CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in South Africa, who suffers from Bipolar II and has spoken openly about her personal history. She urges others to do the same.
“It still surprises me that we are comfortable talking about cancer, diabetes, and heart disease and the prescribed medications that come with them, and yet, despite the terrifying global statistics, we are still very scared to talk about mental health as the no should be viewed differently. It is still a very taboo subject as few celebrities and public figures present their own stories. “
Yael’s personal journey to mental health began when she was 22 years old, living in New York and feeling severely depressed, anxious, and sometimes even suicidal.
“I immediately sought help and with medication, therapy and personal development I was able to build a beautiful life with a successful career, great relationships and family. Tragically, I lost loved ones who succumbed to their mental illness by taking their own lives, and I can really understand how they felt then. My message is that there is a choice, there is resources, and there is help – all you have to do is take this first step.
“We are very open about this at my workplace and support Mental Health Days as it not only creates more loyalty, but also happier, healthier and more productive employees. Sure, my mental illness can be challenging at times, but it’s also my brilliant burden: one that allows me to be creative, highly functional, and the best version of myself – and I’m no longer ashamed to acknowledge it.
“In fact, I want to inspire other leaders to get in touch and share their stories. There is valid research that many entrepreneurs and executives suffer from mental illness, and the studies actually show that it makes them better executives. “
Another mental health advocate is Mandy Herold, Junior Prep Director at Ridge School, a certified International Conscious Discipline Instructor and The Connection Coach.
As a thought leader in social emotional learning, Mandy was interviewed on eNCA about anxiety in children and what they experience with students, parents and teachers in the school environment as well as with their clients.
“We are all scared. There is no such thing as a “fearful child” and a “not afraid child” or a “fearful adult” and a “not afraid adult”. If you have a body, a brain, and a nervous system, you will feel fear because it is a physiological sensation; It’s your body’s natural response to stress. We tell children that it is their body’s natural alarm system that warns them when “something is wrong”.
“Although it is impossible never to feel fear, it often comes from an inability to name the emotion you are feeling.”
Working in schools for 20 years, Mandy believes mental health needs to be high on the agenda.
“Teachers have never worked so harder and are under tremendous pressure to work through the curriculum for the children to prepare for the next class. It’s just not fair. Just as some companies need a recovery period, schools also need a recovery period.
A focus on schools
“The focus at our schools must not be solely on the academic offering; our social emotional learning (SEL) must be explicit and authentic. We need to shift our focus from the traditional 3 Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic – to REGULATING, RELATIONSHIPS and BUILDING RESILIENCE.
“Some of the behaviors we see in the classroom are low self-esteem, emotional outbursts, tears, oppositional behavior, much higher levels of anxiety, lower tolerance for frustration, paranoia (if someone sneezes or coughs, you have ‘COVID’) and internal distractibility.
“Our children’s mental and emotional health was an issue before COVID-19, and this has now increased. The collective trauma that we have experienced / experienced must take center stage in the weeks, months, and years to come. Academics will only thrive when our children feel truly safe again. In the learning pyramid, children have to feel safe and connected before they can learn optimally. The ideal learning state is a high challenge, low stress or relaxed alertness.
“At the same time, teachers quietly suffer from burnout. Even the most experienced teachers question themselves. They look brave and show themselves to their students, but at what cost?
“With the current reduced level 1 restrictions, schools are re-enacting sporting events, fundraisers, parenting events, cake sales and dressing days while teachers still have to oversee social distancing and correct mask wear.
Back to normal?
“That is, as much as things feel like they are ‘back to normal’, this is far from being the case. Ultimately, as a society, we need to have bolder conversations about how to normalize our daily struggles with mental health. It’s okay not to be okay! “
Yael Geffen and Mandy Herold worked together to kick off this discussion with a free live webinar where they will discuss their experiences and information, as well as the tools they use to manage mental health issues.
It will take place on October 27, 2021 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and everyone is cordially invited (anonymous registration possible). If you / your family / colleagues are interested in participating, please register here. If you or a relative suffer and urgently need help, please contact SADAG on 0800 456 789.