October has been declared World Mental Health Awareness Month.

The goal for mental health professionals and organizations alike is to reduce the stigma and discrimination around mental health and educate as many people as possible about mental health.

On the 10th of October, we came together to paint social media green. Not only does it acknowledge those struggling with mental illness, but it creates a safe space to normalize conversations around mental health.

For many of us, when we hear the words mental health, mental illness, or mental well-being, we either don’t know what it means or we think of big things like depression, schizophrenia, or eating disorders. But it is much more than just the diagnosed illnesses. It includes substance abuse, anxiety at work and school. It’s when we want to stay in bed the whole day. When we want to cry for no reason. And the burnout we feel at the end of the year.

Mental illness is a real problem and affects our mood, thinking, behaviors, emotions, and body.

When we are physically sick or have an injury, what do we do? We go to our doctor, we take our meds, we follow the treatment very carefully, and give ourselves time to heal. But when it comes to our mental health, we don’t do the same. We ignore the messages from our bodies. We bottle up our feelings. We distract ourselves by keeping busy. We hope things will get better or just accept the situation as is. Or worse, we self-medicate using alcohol and drugs or partake in other self-destructive behaviors. These might work in the short term but has a lasting negative effect on our lives.

Mental health is not an easy topic to talk about. Sometimes our families don’t understand it or don’t believe it is a real thing. We might get told that it’s all in our head or to spend more time outside in the fresh air.

Mental health and wellness need to be treated in the same way that we do with physical health.

We need to remember, we are not alone. It is not something to feel ashamed about and it definitely does not make you weaker. In fact, 17million people in South Africa experience some difficulty with mental illness.

We can all play our part by starting the conversation around mental health. Educating ourselves and learning what we can do to improve our mental well-being. We can create safe spaces for our families, friends, and communities to have discussions about mental health so we can reduce the stigma. This way, people who need help will feel more comfortable getting it and be open about their situation.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused our stress and anxiety levels to reach an all-time high. The cases, the deaths, the isolation, financial strains, job insecurities, and online learning are just a few things that have triggered us and destabilized our normal routine.

Now, more than ever, we need to do our best to adopt habits that help us take care of our mental health and well-being. 

One of the easiest things to do is self-care. This means taking time out of your day and focusing on yourself and your needs. Whether it is having a cup of your favorite coffee and some quiet time, going for a walk, or taking a bubble bath. 

Remember, You can’t pour from an empty cup.

 Without taking the time to look after and care for yourself, you are not any help to yourself or others.

Keeping your stress levels in check is also very important. Stress takes a heavy toll on your mental and emotional health. Not all stress can be avoided but managing your stress will be a big help.

If you feel angry, agitated, or emotional when you are stressed, try activities that will help you clear your mind, and help you be quiet and calm down.

If you feel withdrawn, spaced out, or demotivated when you are stressed, try activities that are stimulating and energizing to help you relieve stress.

Although these are good tips for everyday stress and mental wellbeing, it is not a replacement for professional medical help and therapy. As soon as your symptoms, whether it is your mood, your appetite, or your energy levels reach a point where it’s preventing you from being your usual self, please seek out help. 

We need to remember that good mental health and wellbeing isn’t a once-off checklist and then we are sorted for life. We need to be aware of the space we are in and work at it as we change and grow.

Remember that you are not alone, 400 million people worldwide experience the same struggles you do.

Be gentle with yourself. Talk about your emotions. Support each other.

When “I” becomes “We”, Illness becomes Wellness.

Kayla Davids – Psychology Honors Student & Mental Health Advocate