What is anxiety

Anxiety is a normal emotion which we all feel at one time or another in response to a stressful situation. Situations which can cause anxiety feelings include starting at a new school, when you’re about to make a speech or just before a test. It is normal to have moments where we feel fearful, worried or nervous about something.

How do you know you are experiencing anxiety? You may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling  scared that something is going to happen
  • Heart beating fast
  • Your chest feeling tight or painful
  • Sweating or feeling clammy
  • Feeling dizzy or confused
  • Feeling like you can’t breathe properly
  • Suddenly feeling hot or feeling cold
  • Feeling scared that you will lose control of yourself

While these symptoms usually come and go depending on the situation, it can become a problem if they get worse or start to interfere with the way you live your life. If they stop you from going to school, going to work, going to the shops or from seeing other people then you need to see someone who can help you to deal with your anxiety before it gets worse.

When anxiety gets worse it can become an anxiety disorder – and there are many of these which affect different things in a person’s life. Panic attacks happen when strong feelings of anxiety build up and feel like they are getting out of control. Some people are anxious of leaving their homes because they feel that something will happen to them (agoraphobia), while some people are afraid of being in social situations where they could be judged by others (social anxiety). Some people are scared of specific things (e.g. spiders) or activities (e.g. heights) while others experience irrational thoughts which make them engage in repetitive behaviour cycles (obsessive compulsive disorder).

In any of these instances, the person experiencing the anxiety will need to be taken to see a social worker, a clinic nurse, a doctor or a therapist who can assist them to figure out what is wrong and what the best treatment would be. Sometimes people need medication to manage the physical anxiety symptoms (to relax their bodies), while counselling can help the person develop coping mechanisms so that the anxiety is more manageable. This includes identifying the triggers (e.g. a specific situation), managing your thoughts (e.g. reasoning with yourself) and learning how to relax (e.g. breathing/relaxation exercises). If you struggle with anxiety or know someone who is struggling with anxiety, you can contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) for help: 0800 456 789

Review Shrink Mama Articles

Shrink Mama has been publishing articles covering the topic of Mental Health over the past few months for us, and we’d like to know your response to the articles.

Shrink Mama is a brand of registered Counselling Psychologist, Reabetsoe Buys; and she is a phenomenal professional who has developed some pretty cool kits and resources to help young children and parents deal with issues of emotional intelligence, discipline and coping mechanisms.

Check out her work here, www.shrinkmama.co.za and don’t forget to complete our survey below.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health condition which affects one’s mood, body and thoughts. While we all experience feeling sad and down at times, depression is a serious condition which can affect someone’s ability to function in all areas of their lives – personally, in relationships, at school or at work. Studies have found that 20% of the population experience at least one depressive episode in their lives. However, not all people know what depression is, how it feels or get the assistance they need to properly deal with the disorder and it’s debilitating symptoms.

How to tell if you or someone you know may be depressed? Depression symptoms include:

  • a persistent low mood or feelings of constant sadness; constantly feeling numb or empty
  • loss of energy and increased fatigue despite getting rest
  • a loss of interest in things which used to be enjoyable (e.g. socialising, hobbies, sex etc.)
  • changes in eating habits (increased appetite/weight gain or decreased appetite/weight loss)
  • changes in sleeping habits (either insomnia, waking up early or oversleeping)
  • restlessness, irritability and hostility
  • withdrawal from and avoidance of social interactions
  • problems with focussing, concentration and memory
  • feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • thoughts of death, suicide and self-harm attempts
  • maladaptive coping mechanisms (e.g. using alcohol or other substances to cope)

Depression does not discriminate according to race, gender, culture or social class – anyone can suffer from it at one point or another.

So what are the causes of depression? Research has found that there is a hereditary contribution with depression. In other words, one has a higher susceptibility to suffering from depression if a close family member suffers from depression. Brain biochemistry also plays a big role in depression because it involves brain chemicals. If your brain is unable to produce and maintain a certain level of specific neurotransmitters, this can cause depressive symptoms too – this is why depression affects the way our bodies feel. Another important factor is the impact of significant life events and how these can lead to depression. This includes things like dealing with loss (e.g. someone dying, losing a house or getting a divorce), traumatic events, financial or legal problems, serious medical problems, high stress and interpersonal relationship challenges. Using alcohol and substances also makes depression worse as these take their toll on your body and it’s ability to recover from stress.

How is depression treated? Fortunately there are various treatment options available which alleviate depressive symptoms. Medication can help to re-balance out brain chemicals and stabilise some of the uncomfortable symptoms which depression causes. However, not all people who struggle with depressive symptoms need to take medication for it. This needs to be determined by a doctor or psychiatrist, who can do a thorough assessment and decide on the need for medical intervention. Psychotherapeutic support involves speaking to a trained professional about your symptoms, how they affect you and how you are coping. A therapist will help you explore any underlying issues and help you improve your ability to cope by exploring your options, looking at your coping mechanisms and supporting you in making important decisions.

Most importantly it is vital to reach out if you are struggling. This way, people can be aware and direct you to resources or to someone who can help. You do not have to struggle alone because this will only get more and more overwhelming. Depression is known as the “silent killer” because it tends to strike and stay without being addressed. If we can educate ourselves more, we can ensure we tackle this issue before more of our loved ones succumb to it.

How to support someone with mental health challenges

As we’ve already established, mental health is an area which is garnering more and more attention in our society. People who struggle with mental health conditions are finding it easier to speak out about it, while mental health advocates are normalizing the prevalence of such as well. However, we have not yet reached a point where we have ended the stigma towards mental health as a prevailing societal problem.

Until recently, mental health conditions were not taken as seriously as physical ailments. Depression, stress and anxiety have not been seen as serious issues which can affect someone’s functioning and well-being. As a result, often people do not know how to support those with mental health problems.

Things often said to people suffering from mental illness:

  • Just snap out of it
  • We’re all crazy!
  • Everyone feels like that
  • Just pray and you will be okay
  • It’s just in your head

Such comments are invalidating, hurtful and ignorant. It is not as easy as praying or thinking yourself out of a mental illness. It is not a choice and we should not be belittling people’s experiences.

Instead what we should be doing is:

  • Listening and being supportive
  • Not judging
  • Asking how we can help them
  • Being patient
  • Reaching out whenever you can
  • Empathizing
  • Referring them to resources which can help

Our role as members of society should be to validate people’s experiences, support those who need us and ensure that they receive the help that they need. A listening ear and a few comforting words can go a long way for someone who feels alone in their internal, emotional struggles.

For more information on mental health conditions and helpful resources, visit www.sadag.org.za

Different Mental Health Issues

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) 16.5% of the adult population in South Africa suffer from a mental illness. All these people are susceptible to experiencing a form of mental health issue at one point or another.

So what are mental health issues? In a country with ongoing socio-economic challenges, poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and traumatic circumstances (amongst other matters), South Africans tend to suffer from a variety of mental health challenges, from childhood to late adulthood. This is regardless of race, age, socio-economic status or religion.

Some people are born with a predisposition to develop a mental health condition (e.g. if it runs in the family). However, a lot of the time, life challenges and environmental factors can also contribute.  The day-to-day adult can be affected by high levels of stress, which can lead to depression or anxiety. For example, someone who has a demanding job and struggles with supporting their family financially can find themselves being affected by this both mentally and emotionally. This can lead to problems with eating, sleeping, mood and concentration. On another extreme there are many children who have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS or those who lived through our traumatic political history. All these people are susceptible to experiencing a form of mental health issue at one or another.

Mental health conditions vary from childhood disorders (e.g. learning disorders) and cognitive disorders (e.g. dementia) to mood disorders (e.g. depression), substance-related disorders (e.g. substance dependence) and psychotic disorders (e.g. schizophrenia). There are also mental disorders which affect how we see ourselves, those which apply to how we eat and sleep and those which explain how we relate to other people. This is why it is important to consult with a professional who can assist you to figure out what could be going with yourself or with a loved one. Nursing sisters, social workers, registered counsellors, medical doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists are all in a position to assist you or refer you to someone who can.

The only way we can end the stigma towards mental illness is by educating ourselves, speaking about it, reaching out and helping others. We can no longer live in a society where such a serious issue is hidden in the depths of our communities. You can be a mental health advocate simply by informing yourself and teaching others!

Understanding Mental Health

“Mental health” refers to the state of our psychological (head) and emotional (heart) well-being. Physical health refers to our bodies and we usually know we are unwell when we start experiencing certain symptoms – a headache, a fever, low energy levels or an unfamiliar rash. However, with mental health issues, there are no such “obvious” symptoms. This is what makes mental health issues so difficult to understand for many people. 

While some mental conditions have physical symptoms too (e.g. changes in sleeping patterns and appetite), it is the psychological and emotional difficulties which are “hidden” and therefore difficult to pick up. It can also be difficult for someone experiencing such symptoms to describe what they actually feel like. Someone with depression can be assumed to just feel “sad” however, the actual internal experience is much more intense than the sadness we all feel at certain times.

The truth is that mental health applies to everyone – men and women; young and old; wealthy and disadvantaged. No one is immune to a mental health condition. There are instances where some people are at a higher prevalence of developing a condition at some point (e.g. due to family history or an environmental circumstance), however many people may experience mood disorders, trauma reactions and substance-related disorders without any obvious contributing factors.

As a society, we are only now becoming more and more exposed to the reality of mental health conditions and challenges. In the past, people used to keep their mental health struggles to themselves – pretending that they were okay and would struggle internally. However, as time has gone on we are becoming more and more open about the prevalence of psychological disorders and how they affect our daily lives. It is important to end the stigma around mental illnesses so we can ensure that people access the assistance that they need.

Mental health practitioners, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, are professionals who assist individuals who may be struggling with a mental condition. Upon consultation they are able to determine the best management of the condition – which could be medication, psychotherapy, skills development or environmental changes. Either way, seeing a professional allows people to express themselves, describe their symptoms and work out a plan to deal with the issue.

It is also important for us to be supportive to those who are struggling. We need to be open to listening to what someone has to say; advise them of where they can get assistance; and check in to see if they are sticking to their treatment plan. To end the stigma we need to make mental illness less taboo and more normalised, so that we can heal as a nation and as a society.


Partnership with Shrink Mama

The Almal Foundation has recently established a partnership agreement with Shrink MamaTM . This partnership seeks to increase access to crucial mental health support for the many young South Africans who cannot afford such, through an innovative approach and programmes.

The Shrink Mama brand is the brainchild of Counselling Psychologist, Reabetsoe Buys, and is a suite of products designed by her for young children and teenagers.

July being the month when we observe issues relating to mental health, the conclusion of this working relationship could not have come at a better time. One of the products in the Shrink Mama suite include the Emotional Intelligence Toolkit ® which is a remarkably resourceful kit for parents and teachers. It is our intention to make access to this resource more widely available through crowd-sourcing and partnering with companies and schools across the country.

Ms. Buys will contribute articles which will be available on our website, relating to various topics around mental health. In addition to this, she will form part of our outreach events around the theme of health and mental health in particular.

We encourage everyone to visit the Shrink Mama website, and if you would like to contribute to the distribution of these kits, you can get in touch with us or make a donation below.


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workplace wellness

Workplace wellness is any workplace health promotion activity or organizational policy designed to support healthy behaviour in the workplace and to improve health outcomes. It often comprises activities such as health education, medical screenings, weight management programs, on-site fitness programs or facilities. The five recommended elements of a good programme are work-life balance, health and safety, employee growth and development, employee recognition and employee Involvement. Workplace wellness programmes can be categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary prevention efforts, or an employer can implement programs that have elements of multiple types of prevention.

Primary prevention programmes usually target a fairly healthy employee population, and encourage them to more frequently engage in health behaviours that will encourage ongoing good health. An example of primary prevention programmes include stress management, and exercise and healthy eating promotion.

Secondary prevention programs are targeted at reducing behaviour that is considered a risk factor for poor health. Examples of such programs include smoking cessation programs and screenings for high blood pressure or other cardiovascular disease related risk factors.

Tertiary health programs address existing health problems, and aim to help control or reduce symptoms, or to help slow the progression of a disease or condition. Such programs might encourage employees to better adhere to specific medication or self-managed care guidelines.

The lifestyles of people in the workforce are important both for the sake of their own health and for the sake of their employer’s productivity. Companies often subsidize these programs in the hope that they will save companies money in the long run by improving health, morale and productivity, although there is some controversy about evidence for the levels of return on investment. Companies must ensure that their health promotion efforts do not place employee health at risk to reach targets nor abuse medical privacy.

Non-controversial examples of workplace wellness organizational policies include allowing flex-time for exercise, providing on-site kitchen and eating areas, offering healthy food options in vending machines, holding “walk and talk” meetings, and offering financial and other incentives for participation. In recent years, workplace wellness has been expanded from single health promotion interventions to create a more overall healthy environment including, for example standards of building and interior design to promote physical activity. This expansion is largely been in part to creating greater access and leadership support from leaders in the participating companies.

In South Africa, medical aid providers are at the forefront of wellness activities for their members, and so is the national government which has adopted the ‘Primary Health Care Approach’; this approach views health promotion as a significant function that reduces the burden of disease to the public health system. In simple, the more people exercise and maintain healthy lifestyles equals the less people requiring medical support from public hospitals, and that informs the drive to install public gym facilities in communities.

Many corporate workplaces offer medical aid contributions which subsidize the cost of health coverage at private facilities to their employees, which forms part of their wellness contributions, however this alone is not enough to ensure employees maintain good health. Companies lose productivity hours if their employees are off sick because they have the flu or back pain, morale is low or poor because employees are frustrated and stressed out at work – which may be because of workplace stress or personal matters – and for this it is imperative that companies ensure that they make good efforts to support their employees mental and physical health.

People who work at places they enjoy being in and experience reduced levels of stress and frustration tend to stay longer at those companies and perform better, which has benefits for the company. It is a great idea that growing companies develop innovative and exciting wellness programmes that make their workers enjoy a more quality life.


** Portions of this post were cited from Wikipedia.


Please visit this link to complete the Workplace Wellness Survey.

Economies of scale

While the news of a shrinking economy does not alarm some of us in the nonprofit sector, who have been engaging business-at-large vigorously to support community initiatives to bleak responses, it is worrisome what this means for the country.

Our society is burdened with social injustices and inequality that is seen nowhere else in the world at this scale; this, coupled with the levels of poverty and unemployment that persist, spells pending doom that may see this country experiencing higher rates of violent crime, corruption, looting and a decline of the social cohesion we have worked so tirelessly to foster.

At a time like this, corporations need to demonstrate bold and decisive leadership which looks beyond short-term profits and declares that this here land is home and we are all here to stay; because when you call a place home you make it so by investing in some paint, furniture, reinforce walls and make it livable: something which it increasingly isn’t for many in the far flung communities referred to as rural.

The recent debate over a fuel retailer’s employee whose selfless act saw many donate and pay it forward, further divided commentators when the retailer joined in on the PR roller-coaster. One problem that peaks out when you consider their haste to get involved is similar to that which exists throughout corporate SA. The decision to publicly acknowledge their employees act of kindness as unique and compelling, should have been met with the embrace of existing personnel development initiatives within the organization. It speaks to a public relations and human resources environment that neither speaks to each other or completely disregards the values enshrined in their wonderfully written annual reports and business plans.

Corporations have staff development and training programmes, which start at the retail floor from something as simple as an employee of the month programme; which is what the normal process of acknowledging this employees act would follow. Thereafter, top management would drill in on this special case due to the media attention and review the employees performance over a certain period and elect to enrol him into their leadership development programmes. This would make sense and prevent staff demoralization, which i suspect may occur from how this whole thing unfolded, not to mention that this should effectively equip the employee with the skills that would serve him the rest of his career and life.

It is further disingenuous to ask said employee to nominate a cause worthy of receiving a donation from the retailer for an amount of money he, himself may never see in his lifetime. This may have been in lieu of paying him a bonus and thus upsetting the personnel ecosystem. This further raises our ire because bringing up those figures against the backdrop of employees, like the one being commended and glorified, who earn meagre incomes that may not meet their monthly needs, is like a smack in the face of all who feel the pain of low-wage earners across the country, further strained by this shrinking economy.

It is reminiscent of what Supplier Development programmes similarly do, on-boarding small businesses into the programme to develop them while maintaining a separate database for companies who actually supply them, and never shall the two converge. It reminds us of the commitments that big business makes about investing in our local economy only to learn much later that those same corporations hyper-inflate prices of bread, airtime and cement, manipulate our currency and misrepresent financial results. In a country where the King Codes on governance demand good faith transacting, it seems there isn’t much of that currency going around.

It is this same good faith we need in the civil society, where big business commits to work with public and non-government institutions to radically reduce inequality and poverty. We need immediate support of impactful programmes that get young South Africans busy, utilizing their hard earned degrees to shape up our economy, provide assistance to state institutions as the public workforce has not and cannot grow fast enough or large enough to support and police all the bureaucratic and legislative policies that have been adopted in this land. Policies such as the Protection of Personal Information Act and the Consumer Protection Act cannot see their full potential otherwise.

While I dare not advocate for a larger public workforce, it is imperative that we start seeing real public-private partnerships underpinned by good-faith. We need bold leaders that see beyond the politics of the day and near-term profits, and who can unashamedly walk into a conference of its investors and make a compelling argument for long-term investment in our country, so that one day we may have another heart-warming advertisement about the richest square mile in Africa, lending its wealth for the upliftment of the square mile right next to it.

Sustainable Good

Giving food parcels to disaster-stricken and impoverished communities is not sustainable. We, at Almal Foundation, have done this many times before and we continue to do so as it is a necessary intervention, particularly in emergency situations.

Nevertheless, we understand that this practice is not sustainable, as the beneficiaries continue to need supplies and support which becomes harder and harder to give – think of the analogy of giving a man a fish, as opposed to a fishing net.

Disaster relief is one of the most inefficient, costliest and more frustrating campaigns that a growing organization can take on. To summarize, you put out a call to society at large (and with the advent of social media this is a global community) for support and donations. People either don’t trust you enough to donate money, prefer to give the aging food and clothing items already in their house or see the call-to-action and contribute to a local or office collection pool that buys and donates these items to your organization. As the organization collecting these donations, you must now make means to traverse all these locations collecting and thanking, packaging and cleaning (clothes must be washed as a policy because some donors will not wash the clothes they give). This onerous task must happen within set timelines because the beneficiaries need that stuff, pronto, obviously! The absolute worst part of this is that, if you ask for these items and receive them, and then make a second call the next week or month for more, because obviously the beneficiaries are still in need – because bodies need constant replenishing – the donors are shocked that that problem still exists, and now registers much lower on their conscious which means no more donations for that cause.

The bigger organizations understand that to play in this space, you need to establish partnerships and long-term agreements with food retailers and large business because that lowers your logistical obligations and can be co-ordinated better. However unfortunate, this pushes out smaller players from the space. This can be problematic, given that reaching the remote parts of the country requires smaller organizations in those communities to bring attention to the community’s needs.

The cost of all of this ends up being more than you would expect, and this diminishes the value of the support being provided. If every person who donated a tin can of fish rather donated the value of that item, that money could be pooled together with other donations of similar value which would then allow the organization to purchase food and other items at discounted bulk rates, meaning more food, and because it is being purchased closer to the communities, lower transportation and storage costs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider what this means for local development. I believe in an approach that sees communities in need, being the ones who are ultimately tasked with uplifting themselves, and this can be achieved by directing food purchases to farmers and businesses closer to the affected communities, which in a small way stimulates economic activity in that area. Secondly, funds collected can be used to train and then equip locals to rebuild damaged homes and infrastructure, paying them stipends and imparting skills in the community.

We work aggressively to build relationships with small business owners, who employ the bulk of society and are found in the heart of communities. We want to work with the people who have to live and work in these communities, and we want to create a network of active citizens who show up for each other and do sustainable good. We want to buy food from the small-scale farmers who live in the rural communities that we purport to support, and help them.

Lastly, sustainable good must respect the dignity of its beneficiaries. This is the most sacred part of what we do. Southern Africa is plagued by poverty, inequality and social injustice and we believe that the over-arching values that must be maintained across the board in this pursuit, is in respecting the dignity of all, especially here at the cradle of humankind. It is incredible what we can achieve when we respect and honour those who are most in need in the same way we do those who have more than they need, we simply have to remember that sisonke sibambisene – we’re all working together.

Simphiwe Ngema is the Executive Chairperson of Almal Foundation npc and a Human Resources professional. – 05 June 2019