Tackling the challenges of mental health

Mental health prevalence is at an all-time high.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) every year 703,000 people take their own life and there are many more people who attempt suicide.

Each suicide is a tragedy that affects families, communities, countries and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind.

WHO says, ‘The stigma, particularly surrounding mental disorders and suicide, means many people think of taking their own lives or have attempted suicide, are not seeking help.

Globally, one person attempts suicide every 26 seconds and one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds.

Worldwide, over 1.9 billion people battle with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Mental health is a key driver of absenteeism and is set to cost the world $16 trillion by 2030, it also costs us millions of lives annually.

In South Africa, the economic uncertainty, political instability and poor socio-economic conditions have also added to the burden of mental health issues.

According to Lee Callakoppen, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund, ‘There has been a substantial increase in the number of member mental health hospital admissions, indicating a need for additional support, particularly in the 18 to 44 age groups.

’This has an enormous impact on employers, as they try keep their businesses going, prevent job losses and maintain a happy and motivated workforce.’

To make matters worse, according to South Africa’s National Mental Health Policy Framework, ‘up to 80% of South Africans who need mental health support, are unable to easily access it’.

There are specialised mental health programmes in place through most medical aids and most mental illnesses can be effectively treated by health professionals and community-based services or NGOs.

This may include access to medication, therapy and counselling.

The Mental Health Programme (MHP) from Bonitas, part of its Care initiatives, includes depression as a chronic condition and is aimed at improving quality of life and empowering people with mental health issues to manage their condition.

It is education-driven and offers support and resources to get the right care at the right time and includes supporting family members.

In addition, Bonitas was the first medical aid to offer October Health (previously Panda) – a free mental health and wellness app – to its members. ‘The October Health™ app provides easy access to expert help, mental health information and community support,’ explains Callakoppen.

‘It serves as a triage system for people with psycho-social issues. Users sign in anonymously and almost all the care they receive on the app is anonymised, meaning there is significantly less fear of stigma or being identified by peers.’

The level of support depends on the degree to which you need help, and a gamified tracking tool allows you to document and monitor the progress of your personal mental health journey.

The October Health™ technology is helping stop the burden of mental health and help people live happier, healthier lives.

Having a mental health condition should never be a reason to deprive a person of their human rights or to exclude them from decisions about their own health.

Yet all over the world, people with mental health conditions continue to experience a wide range of human rights violations.

Many are excluded from community life and discriminated against, while many more cannot access the mental health care they need.

‘Fortunately, increasingly well-known and influential people who are suffering from or have overcome mental illness, are being more open about it’ says Callakoppen.

‘This will go a long way towards debunking myths, negativity, discrimination and judgement.”

Symptoms of mental health issues include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed with excessive fears, worries or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Major changes in eating habits – weight loss or gain
  • Struggling to concentrate and make decisions
  • Loss of energy, motivation and drive changes
  • Constant stress and anxiety over work, finances, life, friends and family
  • Emotionally distant, detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Frequently tearful, trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Easily irritated and more aggressive than usual
  • Having thoughts of death or suicide
  • Drug or alcohol abuse may also be a sign of underlying mental illness
  • Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained aches and pains.

‘We can’t expect someone to ‘pull themselves together,’ says Callakoppen.

‘They simply can’t. Mental health issues are a medical condition just like diabetes, cancer or HIV/AIDS.’

‘But with the right support and help, symptoms can be relieved and the recovery rate is encouraging.’