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MENTAL HEALTH

mental-wellness-image

MENTAL HEALTH

The following information is to be used as a guide to and at the discretion of the end-user and should not replace a doctor’s opinion.

OVERVIEW

Mental health affects our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It influences how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. Mental health is important at every stage of life as it influences how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health disorders include a wide range of mental health conditions which negatively affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. We all have mental health concerns from time to time, but a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.

SYMPTOMS OF MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

It can be challenging to tell the difference between potential signs of a mental health condition and actions and thoughts that might be typical behaviours of a person or the result of a physical illness. Often it’s a combination of symptoms rather than a single sign. Each mental health condition has its own symptoms, but there are common signs of mental illness.

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WOMEN’S MENTAL HEALTH IN SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa is ranked first for rates of depression and anxiety in the world but comes close to last (in bottom 4 countries) for providing mental health treatment and support. Mental health is generally a neglected topic, even more so women’s mental health. This despite mental health issues amongst women being on the rise in South Africa. 

COMMON MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS IN WOMEN

  • Depression: The most common mental health problem in women is depression. Twice as many women experience depression in their lifetime compared to men. Approximately 1 in 9 women 18 and older have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a mental health disorder that can develop after experiencing or being witness to a traumatic event. Compared with men, women are twice as likely to experience PTSD. Women are more likely to have hypervigilance, feel depressed, and have trouble feeling emotions; men are more likely to feel anger and have problems with alcohol or drugs.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or fear about an event or situation and is a normal reaction to stress. In general, it helps you cope, however when it becomes hard to control and affects your day-to-day life, it can be disabling. Women are twice as likely as men to experience generalised anxiety disorder or panic disorder.
  • Suicide: Women attempt suicide more often than men; although men are four times more likely to die by suicide.
  • Eating Disorders: Approximately 90% of people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia and 65% of people with binge eating disorder, are women.

MENTAL HEALTH AMONG YOUNG WOMEN AND GIRLS

  • 75% of mental health issues are established before the age of 24, and young women have emerged as the highest-risk group for mental illness.
  • 25% of young women have self-harmed, although there is growing evidence that this rate could be higher, which is more than twice that of young men
  • A quarter of young women experience common mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression – almost three times more than young men.

  • 1 in 7 young women (14%) aged 16-24 have PTSD, compared with 3.6% of young men.

  • 28% of adolescent girl deaths are due to suicide, compared to 20% of adolescent boys

MENTAL HEALTH AND MENOPAUSE

Menopause is technically one day in a woman’s life that occurs 12 months after her last period. Afterward, women are considered postmenopausal. Before then, you’re in the perimenopause stage, where there is unpredictable fluctuation of reproductive hormones  which can make you more vulnerable to major depression.

The same hormones that control your menstrual cycle also influence serotonin, a brain chemical that promotes feelings of wellbeing and happiness. When hormone levels drop, serotonin levels also fall, which contributes to increased irritability, anxiety and sadness.

Falling oestrogen and progesterone levels can trigger mood swings that make you less able to cope with things you’d normally be able to handle. For some, these hormonal dips can set off a depressive episode, especially for those who have gone through major depression in the past.

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RISK FACTORS FOR WOMEN

SOCIO-ECONOMIC

Women are more likely to live in poverty which, along with concerns about personal safety and working mainly in the home, can lead to social isolation. They are also more likely to be the primary caregivers, which can lead to stress, anxiety and isolation.  Lack of time or support (time off work, childcare, transportation) adds a further barrier to accessing help, increasing feelings of hopelessness.

The way women are raised and expected to act can contribute to depression. Some of the causes are, being taught not to show anger or assertiveness, feeling the need to be “small” or not take too much space, lack of support with childcare or household chores, and discrimination in professional settings.

Women are also more likely to internalise negative events and feel guilty or ashamed even though they are not to blame for the cause, which often results in withdrawal, loneliness, and depression. On the other hand, men are more likely to externalise, which can lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviour.

VIOLENCE

Women are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse, which can have a long-term impact on their mental health and can increase suicide and self-harm. About 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Evidence shows that 53% of women who have mental health problems have also experienced abuse.

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WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Often, the first and most important step on the road to mental health is acknowledging the need to take action. For women, taking that first step can be particularly challenging due to the societal pressures women feel to be strong, nurturing caregivers for their families, friends, and communities. Arming yourself with accurate, up-to-date information on the most effective strategies for overcoming mental health challenges can help you reclaim the fulfilling, enjoyable, and purposeful life you deserve.

TAKE ACTION

If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental illness, see your primary care provider or a mental health professional. Most mental illnesses don’t improve on their own, and if untreated, a mental illness may get worse over time and cause serious problems.

Get routine medical care. Don’t neglect checkups or skip visits to your primary care provider, especially if you aren’t feeling well. You may have a new health problem that needs to be treated, or you may be experiencing side effects of medication.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group. They provide counselling and assistance for patients and callers throughout South Africa with mental health queries. They have a number of 24-hour, toll-free helplines, including:

Cipla Mental Health Helpline Call: 0800 456 789 | SMS: 31393 | WhatsApp 076 882 2775 (8AM-5PM)

Suicide Crisis Helpline Call: 0800 567 567

NPOwer Mental Health Support Helpline Call: 0800 515 515 | SMS: 43010

You can find more information at www.sadag.org

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