Applied Psychology

Accessing Mental Health Care

Sep 15, 2020 | By Saranne Durham
Accessing Mental Health Care

Mental health is an important aspect of our daily lives. Every now and then, we might need a bit of help to keep it in good shape. In this article we unpack what mental health is, why caring for your mental health is important and a few things that commonly prevent people from seeking care.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is a place of well-being in which you are able to manage your usual stresses of life and function effectively. As a result, our mental health determines how we think, feel and interact. It also determines how we relate to others as well as the choices we make.

“Mental Health determines how we think, feel, interact and relate to the world around us.”

Why is Mental Health important?

Mental health significantly impacts our everyday life from childhood, into adolescence and throughout our adult lives. It affects how we feel, think and act. As a result, it can impact our emotional response to something as well as our physical health and well-being. Your mental health can determine how efficiently and effectively you function or interact with others. This impacts not only your own well-being but also those around us such as your family, friends and community.

What causes Mental Health issues?

It is important to remember that mental health issues are universal. Anyone can be affected regardless of age, social, cultural or economic circumstances, although those with more stressors are at higher risk. Some mental health problems, like depression, anxiety and substance use problems are quite common. There’s a good chance that, during some point in our lives, one of these significantly disrupt our everyday functioning. Although different mental health problems might have different causes, generally we believe they are caused by a combination of:

  1. Biological factors, for example brain chemistry or inheriting a disposition for a particular problem from family.
  2. Life experiences such as having many stressors or life difficulties or experiencing one or many traumatic events.

“Mental Health issues can affect everyone, although people with lots of stressors are at a higher risk.”

Social isolation and loneliness can also negatively impact one’s mental health. Consequently, it is important to take stock of your own emotional state and remain connected to those around you during lockdown. Because of how much our lives have been affected since the start of the year, it is completely normal to feel like things are not ok. This means that some things that would normally be considered “warning signs” are just ways that we are adapting to a changed world. However, if you generally feel like you cannot cope with daily life and recognise a few signs below, it might be time to reach out to someone.

Possible Warning Signs

  1. Sleeping or eating less or more than usual
  2. Low energy
  3. Uncontrolled emotional outbursts, unusual mood swings and/or continually feeling on edge
  4. Disengaging from people and usual activities
  5. Feeling hopeless, helpless or depressed
  6. Continually having negative thoughts
  7. Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, anxious, worried or scared
  8. Battling to perform everyday tasks
  9. Feeling numb
  10. Reoccurring thoughts of harming yourself or others

Why should You seek help?

As the World Health Organisation states, mental health is a state of well-being where we are able to realise our own abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and make contributions to our community. It is not only about not having mental health problems, but rather promoting it as a crucial part of living a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. Experiencing poor mental health over a long time can also impact other areas of our lives, like our self-image and worth, our relationships with people around us and our enjoyment and productivity at work. High levels of continual stress has also been linked to serious health consequences such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Also, depending on what kind of challenge we are facing, waiting a long time before addressing it could make it more difficult to overcome in the long run.

“Our Mental Health is a crucial part of living a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.”

Which Mental Health Professional should I see?

Each of these branches have specialities within them. For example, a professional may focus on a specific age group (children, adolescents, adults or elderly), a field such as education or family or a traumatic events.

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialised in diagnosing, treating and preventing mental illnesses. In addition to possibly prescribing medication, they may refer you to a psychologist for psychotherapy (talking therapy).
  • Psychologists focus on diagnosing and treating mental, emotional and behaviour problems. They develop treatment plans, provide counselling and usually meet regularly with someone to help them cope with problems and practically adjust habits or behaviour through psychotherapy. Psychologists might refer you to a psychiatrist, if medication is necessary.   
  • Counsellors (called Registered Counsellors in South Africa)provide short term support, usually in the cases of trauma. They provide psychological screening and intervention for the purposes of aiding better functioning. If necessary, they can refer you to an appropriate specialist.
  • Social Workers provide support for individuals and families during difficult periods. They focus on assessing circumstances to improve outcomes of people’s lives. They also assist with implementing measures to safeguard vulnerable people from harm by taking on an advocate and guiding role.

Four Reasons why People don’t seek Mental Health Care:

Fear and Shame

The fear of stigma, discrimination and bringing shame on ourselves or family often prevents us from seeking help. Psychology and the mental health field in general is filled with misconceptions that can make us feel like outsiders or afraid to talk about our emotional and psychological troubles, even though they are so common! If you are afraid of reaching out, take courage – you are not alone. 

Don’t think you need it

One of the really tricky things about many psychological and emotional problems is that they are often just more intense experiences of what is already there. Although they can be unpleasant, occasionally feeling a bit depressed or anxious are a completely normal part of our lives! So, where do we draw the line? The simplest guide is to seek help when you feel like the problem is affecting your ability to cope with usual everyday activities. This might include keeping up with school, work or university, interacting and connecting with our friends, family and community, taking care of our own nutrition, sleep or hygiene or struggling to stay interested in things we usually like.

The situation makes it harder

Even if we are feeling totally fine, doing something for the first time can be very hard. If we are not feeling our best, it can be even harder. As a result, we might sit on a problem for a while, before we can muster the energy and courage to take action. If we wait a while, we might begin to doubt ourselves, feel ashamed or hopeless – we could begin to feel stuck. If you are feeling stuck, try and take a smaller step first. So, instead of calling to make an appointment for ourselves, we could tell a friend what we are trying to do and why it feels hard. If you’re not sure about talking to a friend, counselling telephone lines are also a great place talk something over! 

Practical barriers

The affordability of getting help (therapy and/or medication) can make accessing care difficult for many of us. This might be not having enough money to pay for services or even not having services nearby to us. For some practically getting to a care facility is impossible. Fortunately, there are a number of free services available that are accessible by telephone. So, we don’t need to pay and can access them from anywhere, as long as we have a phone.

SACAP offers five mental health care courses which will qualify you to be “work-ready”  and equipped for employment within the South African field of counselling and psychology. SACAP’s Bachelor of Psychology graduates are able to register with the HPCSA as  registered counsellors. They also have the option of registering for the SACAP Master’s programme.

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