OPINION – The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as the “complete restoration of physical, mental and social well-being using treatment, care and rehabilitation”.
The importance of promoting mental health and well-being, and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, are integral parts of the Sustainable Development Agenda to transform our world by 2030 and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
However, in many parts of the world, only the latter part of this definition receives recognition, prioritisation and resources within health care systems, as well as within society at large.
Although there has been a substantial increase in knowledge of mental disorders over the past decade, there remains a lack of awareness and understanding of the impact of mental disorders.
This, coupled with limited information on treatment, prevention and management systems available to local communities, creates a grey area within our current health system.
The month of May marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness campaigns across the globe to bridge the apparent knowledge and awareness gap.
Over the next six months, as we build up to South Africa’s Mental Health month in October, we aim to create awareness surrounding mental illness to reduce stigma, shed light on misconceptions, provide insight on ways to manage such diseases, with a view to increasing self-awareness, improve access to care and support for those suffering from a mental disease.
To do this, one must begin by unpacking medical jargon – that is, words that are often used interchangeably but which are rather different.
While a myriad of available statistics show that there are increased rates of mental illnesses and disorders, worldwide, there is limited updated data available to capture prevalence and incidence in sub-Saharan Africa.
This highlights the need to further understand the meaning of mental health in South Africa.
Mental health is related to the promotion of overall health and is more than just the absence of a disease. It also involves the prevention of disease and the treatment and rehabilitation of people negatively affected by illness, which includes their ability to realise their potential and to cope with the normal stresses of life, as well as the ability to productively and fruitfully contribute to the community.
Mental illness and mental disorders on the other hand, speak to a range of biological, psychological and behavioural conditions that may affect an individual’s everyday functioning and quality of life in the home, work and social environment.
Multiple aspects determine a person’s level of mental health, such as social, psychological and biological factors, which have an impact on an individual at any stage and may give rise to some form of impairment.
Furthermore, specific psychological or personality factors and biological causes, including genetic factors which contribute to chemical imbalances in the brain, may increase the risks of developing a mental disorder among certain individuals.
I have first-hand experience of these debilitating illnesses and the lack of awareness that exists within our community.
There is also a stigma and misconceptions attached to mental health. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and have been diagnosed with major deprivation disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress following interpersonal violence.
Over the next few weeks I will provide insight on being diagnosed, living with mental illness and surviving the 21st century despite the daily struggle.
You will also get an inside glance at the real face of mental illness and perhaps gain a deeper understanding of these debilitating diseases.
We will explore potential inter-sectoral strategies to promote mental health within our society. This means creating conditions that support mental health and allowing people who suffer from a mental illness or disorder to have a better understanding, seek help and to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles.
If you would like to submit a personal experience or have questions that you would like more information on, please write to me as we prepare to raise awareness, promote intrapersonal and interpersonal acceptance of mental illnesses and disorders.
We intend to foster a local society that understands the impact of mental health and establishes systems to detect, treat and manage mental health.
* Munsami is a research psychologist and PhD candidate in neuroscience.
* The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of Independent Media.
Article by: SUNDAY TRIBUNE