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!