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Stay calm, and read this blog!

11 October 2021
5 minute read


By Tamara Oberholster

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has reported that it has been receiving more calls since the start of lockdown from people feeling anxious, lonely, worried and depressed. You’re certainly not alone – we’re all feeling it – but what to do about it? Stay calm and read this blog!

Start with self-care

Counselling psychologist Geordie Pilkington suggests a few things that have been proven to help with mental health. “Gentle exercise that you enjoy can help when you’re feeling very stressed,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a hectic workout. Any physical movement is beneficial for mental health. Set aside 20 minutes to walk, or join an online yoga class.”

Pilkington says that many people also find that meditation can help with stress management. There are many free apps and websites available to help with guided meditation, such as Insight Timer or UCLA Mindful, as well as paid versions, like Headspace.

Another valuable tool in managing stress during disrupted times is trying, where possible, to stick to routines and putting work/life boundaries in place. For example, if you are working from home, “Try to keep to the same routine as you would if you were going to work, even if you’re working from home,” suggests Pilkington. “Try to get up at the same time, to have your breakfast and put on clothes that make you feel good.

If you are back in the office, there’s no reason you shouldn’t indulge in some self-care too. Boundaries are still important, so ensure you take your lunch and tea breaks, and try not to work too late. Use your breaks to do something calming like meditation or you could take a stroll or read a book.

And one of the key ways anyone can reduce stress and anxiety in the times we live in, is to ration the time spent consuming news – whether you do that via radio, television, the newspapers and news sites, or social media. By all means check in once a day to keep up to date with things, but don’t check obsessively.

When to get help?

Sometimes, the stress or mental load can be too much to manage on one’s own. However, because there is still a stigma around mental health, many people avoid seeking help.

“If you think about how we’re raised and educated – encouraged to be independent, self-sufficient and successful – we can feel a sense of shame when we feel like we’re losing control or burning out,” says Pilkington. She adds that in many cultures and religions, there’s also shame in admitting to mental health struggles. It might even be seen as witchcraft or demonic.

Signs you’re not coping well enough on your own
You might need professional help if you can’t sort your mental health out through self-care. Signs that you aren’t coping alone might include:

  • becoming very angry or irritable
  • feeling intense feelings of sadness
  • persistent tearfulness
  • withdrawing from people
  • losing enjoyment in things you normally love
  • combating feelings of depression by overcompensating with
  • forced cheer and busyness
  • insomnia
  • at the extreme, thoughts about self-harm or suicide.

Finding help

If you believe that you’re not coping and you need help, there are various options available. SADAG and Lifeline both offer free phone counselling services. SADAG also helps to facilitate more than 200 support groups nationwide, dealing with issues ranging from substance abuse to anxiety, trauma, depression and so on. Many faith-based organisations also offer support groups or counselling services (although Pilkington emphasises it’s important that the counsellor does have a proper qualification as well as being a member of the faith community).

Mental health professionals you could consult
There are various trained professionals who can specifically assist with one-on-one counselling, such as registered counsellors, psychologists (clinical, educational and counselling) and psychiatrists. All of these are registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

  • Social workers (who must be registered with the South African Council for Social Service Professions) tend to be focused on helping with things related to “social” issues, for example, helping a family to navigate the adoption process. Pilkington notes that many social workers are also experienced and competent psychotherapists. You can contact them via the Department of Social Development, or organisations like Famsa.
  • Registered counsellors tend to offer short-term supportive counselling, as well as psychological evaluations (e.g. personality profiling for prospective employers). If your company has a workplace wellness programme, you should have access to counsellors there, or your church, mosque, shul or temple might have counselling services in place.
  • Psychologists provide psychotherapy services that range from providing emotional and vocational support, to diagnosing and treating serious psychological and mental health disorders. They tend to offer longer-term counselling support (usually upwards of four sessions, according to Pilkington).
  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have chosen to specialise in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental disorders, and they are therefore also able to prescribe medication for the treatment of these disorders.

Sometimes, these professionals overlap and on occasion they may work together (for example, if a psychologist diagnoses a mental disorder that requires medical treatment, they may refer the patient to a psychiatrist.

Top tip: Pilkington suggests that if you’re looking for a trusted referral for a psychologist or psychiatrist, it’s worth asking your GP.

Finding a safe space to talk it out

One of the best ways to address mental health challenges is through talking

Some important things to look for in a potential counsellor or therapist are patient confidentiality (being able to trust the person is extremely important) and “fit” – is it someone you feel understands your needs? Does it feel like this person is “safe”?

If you are nervous about seeing a counsellor or therapist for the first time, Pilkington suggests making a list of things you’d like help with, as well as thinking about where you would like to see yourself at the end of the process (i.e. what do you want to change?).

One of the best ways to address mental health challenges is through talking

“What we know in our industry is that it doesn’t matter what technique you use so much as knowing that most people who get hurt, who then feel heard and understood, start to feel a bit better,” she says. “There’s something very healing about the therapeutic relationship.”

Whether you just need to put some self-care measures in place to protect your mental wellbeing, or seek help from a professional, mental wellness is just as important as physical wellness. If you’re struggling, take the necessary steps – there is help available whether your challenges are large or small!

Help is available here

Here are some useful helplines if you need someone to talk to:

  • Lifeline National Crisis 0861 322 322
  • SADAG suicide line: 0800 56 75 67 /011 234 4837
  • Cipla 24hr Mental Health Helpline 0800 456 789
  • Substance abuse helpline: 0800 12 13 14
  • Stop Gender Based Violence Helpline 0800 150 150

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