mental wellness

In the feels

When my good friend passed away last year, something struck me, related to my mental health journey. Whenever any of my colleagues, and family have approached me to express their condolences, and support, my response was, “I feel sad, because I miss her, but I’m glad she is no longer suffering.”

And that is what I realized the day after she passed. I’d been feeling sad. And I’ve been able to acknowledge that. And as I was walking into the office on that Monday, I was thinking about it. People will often say, “I feel so depressed…” but what you’re actually feeling is sadness. And while yes, I was going through a depressive episode at the same time, but, regarding my friend’s passing, I felt sad. And I was able to differentiate between the two emotions.

And while that may seem so minor, for someone who struggles to express emotion because for her entire life she was told that nice girls don’t get angry, and good girls don’t feel bad emotions, it’s a massive step to tease out sadness from depression. To be able to say that yes, I am depressed, but what depression feels like is a weight on my body, resulting in me not being able to get out of bed, or wash my hair, or eat. Whereas sadness, is a feeling of sorrow, of wanting to be around my friend, or wishing to hear her jokes, or spend time dancing with her, or looking at old photos, and realizing we will never have another photo together, nor share a birthday together again. It’s a feeling of longing.

Yes, this is a small win, but if this is you, give yourself a pat on the back. A lot of us have grown up being told things like,  “Do not throw a temper tantrum” (when you did not have enough words to express your anger as a toddler), or “Oh come on, it’s just high school, it will be over soon” (when something made you sad as a teenager). And of course, “Nice girls don’t get angry” and “You would be much prettier if you smiled”. Let’s not forget, “Man up” and “Boys don’t cry”.

We’ve been taught, especially as women, that we always need to be happy, and that nice girls don’t get angry, so we never learn how to express anger in an appropriate way. And boys are taught that you need to man up, and that the best way to resolve a conflict is to fight it out, so they never learn the appropriate way to express anger either.  And the same goes for other emotions. “Boys don’t cry”, but also, women shouldn’t be “too emotional”. How do I know what too emotional is? If I never learnt what the correct amount of emotion to express is?

And then as adults, we don’t even understand what is going on in our bodies when we feel emotion. And we have to re-learn how emotions feel, and how to express them, and the words for the different emotions, and also, how emotions feel in our bodies.

Last year, I learnt about expressing different emotions, and how to differentiate them from thoughts. So I may be mentally exhausted from working too hard, so it feels like tired, but instead of taking a nap, maybe I need to watch a silly show on TV to rest my brain. Or, know that I think that you your actions are unfair, but the emotion I am feeling is rejection.

The next step that I’m currently learning, is how my emotions feel in my body. We feel anger long before it erupts in shouting, for example. I have acknowledged that my anxiety is in my gut, and in the tension in my jaw and in my shoulders. But what I am learning is to pick up on the building of the anxiety before it’s a full-blown panic attack and then I have to take a lot more drastic measures to return to normal functioning, rather than picking it up while it’s still manageable. And maybe all I need to do is roll my shoulders or breathe deeply three times.

Another example, is knowing that when your partner starts making a statement that is a trigger for you  and before he’s completed the sentence, your stomach is already in knots, and reading that feeling in your body, and being able to say to yourself that you are feeling anger, and frustration. So that instead of responding in anger, you respond by expressing the emotion that you are feeling, and stating that you cannot respond to the content of what he is saying, until you have a moment to calm down and think rationally again.

What’s also important to know, is that we don’t just experience emotions in our heads. Emotions are felt throughout our bodies, and we can pick up the signs in our bodies first sometimes. A small tingling in your fingertips, to suggest that you don’t feel comfortable somewhere. Before it becomes panic in your mind, and a sinking sensation in your gut, before you are in full-blown fight or flight mode. So start paying attention to your body, it’s more intone than you think. And it alerts you to your emotional state before you recognize the emotion.

It’s so important to be able to express emotions, and that means being able to name them, and to know the difference between sadness, and anger. And to know that expressing emotion is not bad, if done correctly. What we’ve convoluted, as a society, is expressing emotion with how that emotion is expressed. And that is where the problem lies.   

Photo Credit: The Mighty

It’s acknowledging that your partner, for example, is allowed to be angry with you for something you said or did, but not allowing them to degrade you, or violate you because of their anger. And then for you to depersonalize the anger, by saying to yourself that they are angry with something you did as it upsets them, and it has nothing to do with who you are as a person. It’s feeling anger yourself, but not allowing the anger to forever colour your feelings towards another person.

All feelings are ok. It’s what we do with them that matters.

Useful Resources:

The emotions wheel (useful for identifying emotions):

https://themighty.com/2018/11/i-feel-nothing-wheel-of-emotions/

Uncategorized

Don’t stop believing… in yourself

It’s self-esteem month, and there are a lot of tips and activities, with suggestions of how to boost your self-esteem, and these are all great. I believe in gratitude lists, and reminding yourself of what you have done well, and all the other activities that are out there to boost your self-esteem, although I am also a firm believer in the journey of building your self-esteem. And it’s a lot longer than a month.

Woman hugging herself

Throughout my healing journey, I have a learnt a lot about myself, and what is truly part of my character, and what is a symptom of trauma, or low self-esteem or mental illness. One of the most challenging parts of my therapeutic journey has been the work I have put into building my self-esteem.

Self-knowledge. The first step of the self-esteem journey. I spent a large part of my life pretending to be someone I’m not, and not knowing who I really am. Listening to music, influenced by my friends and family. Reading books that were also influenced by my friends. Watching movies that were revered by the industry bodies. I had to work on the idea that I might like books that are labelled as “holiday reading”, even though some of my friends would look down on books like these, because they are never going to be in the running for a Nobel prize. Or watching TV shows and movies that bear no intellectual message, or are not beautifully crafted independent films, with a deeper meaning. It is ok to watch movies and TV, purely for entertainment value. I had to re-learn what I liked, whether or not it would get outside approval.

Self-acceptance. The next part of the journey, might be the hardest part for me, and if I’m honest, I’m probably still building on this phase of my self-esteem journey. Now that you know who you are, regardless of what others think, or whether there is anyone with similar interests to you, it’s time to accept that this is who you are. And that others might not accept you, for who you are. Others might think that the things you enjoy are silly, or childish, or unintelligent, or nerdy, or lame. But the most important thing to remember, that this is who you are, and as long as you know that about yourself, and you can accept these aspects of who you are. No one else needs to.

Self-love. Knowing who you are, accepting who that is, but then loving that person. Being ok with your stuff, with who you are, with what you like, what you enjoy doing, and believing that that person is ok, and deserving of love, and then loving that person. The belief that you are good enough. Coupled with the knowledge that others out in the world may not agree, and may not love you, and may judge who you are, but to know that you are ok just the way you are. Sure, we could all use some personal development, but it doesn’t mean a regression to self-hatred. You can have a high self-esteem and self-love, while still acknowledging that you are not perfect, and there are aspects of yourself that you want to improve.

Self-knowledge to self-love

Although all of this is the long game. In our day-to-day lives, there are little things that you can do to boost your self-esteem.

  1. Exercise – gives you a boost of endorphins, and if you can get outside, that is even better, because you can boost your mental wellness by being outside, which inevitably boosts your self-esteem, and Vitamin D, from spending time in the sun, does wonders for your mental health.
  2. Start a compliment jar. For yourself. Write down compliments about who you are, good things you have done, positive notes for yourself. You can always return to this when your self-esteem is a bit low, to remind yourself that you are good enough.
  3. Mindfulness. A lot of our low self-esteem issues, stems from our comparison to others, and to our future or past selves, and feeling like a failure for having not achieved “what we’re supposed” to have achieved at this point in our lives. But if we stop, and focus on the here and now, and the person we are in this moment, and the things we have achieved today, even if it’s just getting out of bed, or washing your hair, getting to work on time, remembering a friend’s birthday. It also helps, when you have a negative thought, to stop and think about it, what it means, why you think you’re having it. Try and imagine you are talking to a friend who’s just said something negative about themselves, and how you would respond to them.
  4. Meditate. Meditation has been proven to change the structure of the brain. Spending some time in meditation, even if it’s just for five minutes a day, can be an excellent source of mental wellbeing and self-esteem boosting
  5. Stretch your body. We carry a lot of tension in our bodies, and we cannot feel positive about ourselves if our bodies are aching. So spend a few minutes a day stretching. There are some great youtube yoga videos (ranging from 5 minutes to an hour, whatever your needs and time allow for)
  6. Journal. Spend some time getting those negative thoughts you’re having about yourself out onto the page, and inevitably, you will critique them and work through them. It can be a way of challenging your negative self-talk.
Woman patching broken mirror with plaster.

Low self-esteem can lead to many challenges in your work, home life, and personal relationships, and can lead to depression and anxiety. But focusing on yourself, and reminding yourself of your value, and why you are good enough, can boost your self-esteem. Good luck on your journey!

mental health · mental wellness · pandemic

I found hope in a hopeless space

No matter the circumstances, as long as we have hope, we can survive them. And that is the most difficult thing that I have found during 2020, is that I had no plans, no certainty, nothing to look forward to, and all I was left with were feelings of hopelessness.

But coming into 2021, which is feeling a lot like 2020, the sequel, I needed a mind shift. I needed to find hope in hopeless situations. The pandemic is causing us to do some serious soul searching, it’s taking away the things that make us human, like our connections with other humans, our freedom to roam and explore our worlds.

flower growing through crack  in concrete

I have decided that this year, I will try and focus on the silver linings. One thing that the pandemic has given me is the blessing of family time. As a working mom, I very rarely spend a lot of time with my children outside of the weekend, but I was lucky enough to have time with them at home. We were able to do yoga routines, and artwork together, and jump on the trampoline. I have been grateful to be able to watch them grow up and learn, and change as the year wore on.

I have also been granted more time to incorporate more reflective activities into my day. Last year, I started morning pages, which has been a great way to start my day, through journaling. It’s like clearing out my thoughts so that I can focus, and be mindful of the day ahead.

Because of the isolation, and uncertainty of the pandemic, I have suffered quite badly with anxiety and depression, but the silver lining here is that I have more time to practice yoga, and spend more time in meditation, which I wouldn’t be able to do if I was working from the office. And I’ve managed to incorporate these activities into my day so that I do at least 5 minutes of yoga and 5 minutes of meditation every day, and these have aided in me being more mindful and remaining in the present.

Person between barren land, and lush grass

Activities that really help me out when I feel numb and withdrawn from the world are reading and writing. Writing, particularly, because it’s such a big part of who I am, and because I feel so passionately about writing, and because I feel energized once I have spent some time writing. I have had more time during my day because I am not commuting as much, I have been able to carve out time to write more.

Because I do not need to wake up as early to get to gym, to get home in time for the school run to get to work in time, I have more time in the evenings, and have been able to spend more time reading. Admittedly, when my depression is really bad, I struggle with this, but my workaround for this is to either use audiobooks, or alternatively choose books that I am able to get lost in quite easily.

Painting of "hope is the thing with feathers"

This year, I want to spend more time on creative pursuits, like writing, and photography, and also to just be in the moment with my kids so more dance parties, and more playtime. And this year, instead of being so isolated, I want to reach out to my friends, because even when I do not feel like surrounding myself with people, I always feel better afterwards.

No matter what you need to do to find your hope in what may seem like a hopeless situation, I encourage you to do it. it doesn’t have to be big. Some days, all it is is getting out of bed, or cooking a meal. Other days, it’s running 5km, or finishing the book you’re reading.

Let’s refocus this year, and find our hope.

"once you choose hope, anything's possible" Christopher Reeve
mental health

New year, same old me

It is incredibly hard to set goals during a pandemic. How do you make plans and set intentions for an uncertain future? And, therein lies the beauty of setting powerful goals. Because when there is nothing external to yourself to aspire to, or to covet, or for external validation, all there is, is what is within you.

I stopped making New Years Resolutions about ten years ago, because I felt like calling them that set me up for failure. I started focusing on the six areas of my life, and set goals within these areas. For example, health and fitness, spiritual, career, intellectual, social, and so forth. And last year, I took it to the next level, by incorporating all of this into a bullet journal to help me track progress. And then the pandemic hit. And all planners became obsolete.

But, at the end of last year, I still, in hope, bought my usual planners, including a new Bullet Journal for 2021. And I used the concept of the “Level 10 life” to set up my goals for the year. One of the gifts the pandemic has granted me, has been time for reflection. I usually fill my life with busy activities, and plan every moment of my life. I haven’t been able to do that. So I have been able to use my time better, and I realized, that what I actually want is to slow down, and engage, and be mindful, play with my kids, and not focus on the side hustle, and always being excessively productive.

The world is so focused on being busy, and doing all the things. That we forget to stop and appreciate all of the things. Lockdown has gifted us with the time to be able to appreciate the ‘small things’, such as connecting with friends and family.  

So how does that impact on setting goals for a New Year? I started by listing all the areas of my life, from spirituality, to family to career and social life. I then looked at each, and rated them on how much focus I have been able to give them, and after this I could see which areas of my life needed more of my attention. I admit that this sounds quite complicated, but the idea is that you focus on an area of your life that you feel you have neglected, instead of setting hard targets, like “lose 10kg” or “complete marathon”.

Viewing goal setting this way enables us to not be so hard on ourselves, and not have hard targets to be achieving by the end of the year. A goal can be to rest more, which is something I need to do. I need to be more comfortable with doing nothing, while resting and recharging. This way of planning for the year enables us to set more gentle goals for the year, like rest, connection, be kind to yourself, spend time outside, have fun.

I suggest that when you look at what you want to achieve this year, that you consider what it is that you, yourself, are longing for, and focus on that. It doesn’t have to be an external goal like losing weight, running a marathon, because that’s what this pandemic has taught me. That I’ve been too focused on external validation, and what I need to achieve to feel better.

This year, let’s focus on our dreams, and what we need for ourselves, and not reaching some imagined target. This year instead of hustling hard, I’m going to rest hard, and be productive at mindfulness, and slowing down.

mental wellness

The Magic of Christmas:

I’m going to be honest. I have always loved Christmas. Looking back on my childhood, I remember the magic of Christmas. From attending Noddy parties, and getting my first gift of the year from Father Christmas, and the fairy whom we have to help turn on the lights once the Golliwogs have switched them off. And then the search for the Christmas tree, and then decorating it, including using cotton wool to make snow. And when I was a little older, being able to write letters to Father Christmas to ask for what I wanted. Christmas movies. It really was a magical time.

The magic of Christmas and snowflakes

But what I didn’t see was the challenging family dynamics that was underlying every Christmas lunch. My parents and aunts and uncles were all divorced, so it is a logistical nightmare to plan for the adults, because which year do the kids go to which parents. I very rarely saw my father’s side of the family, which looking back is a challenging dynamic in its own. His brother would also visit every year, and my ma refused to acknowledge his presence, a tension I felt then, but only understood once I was old enough. I rarely saw my sister for an extended period of time, which I only understand now was because she’s not a fan of Christmas, because of these difficult dynamics.

And as an adult, once the magic was gone, it really was gone. I have some difficult Christmases that I look back on, some where I’ve spent the afternoon crying, or where I spent the day angry with something my father did. Or the year where I just felt really bad for my niece because she bore the brunt of the difficulties my brother and father were experiencing. Christmas is not magical. It takes all those family dynamics we avoid for most of the year, and then amplifies it on that one day in the year where we are forced to spend hours together and share a meal.

Christmas is hard as an adult. We stress about having the perfect Christmas lunch, and buying the perfect gifts for everyone we love, and making sure we look good for that one day. The expense for that one day is astronomical, and doesn’t make sense, but we do it every year.

Broken Christmas bauble

Christmas is a trigger for many people. It’s a time of severe loneliness for many people, where they are reminded of how lonely they are. It’s a time when we also remember the people we are not seeing because they are no longer with us.

But when we strip it all away, the real magic of Christmas lies in who we spend it with, and making sure that we spend our time with people who uplift us. And that we don’t feel obligated to see family that do not make us feel good about ourselves. We need to hold that boundary, and not allow an expectation of Christmas time being a family holiday, if our families only bring bad feelings. And acknowledge that it is ok to spend Christmas by yourself, and treat yourself to a special day. Eat a special meal, pamper yourself.

However you spend Christmas and the festive season, whether it’s with others or by yourself, but make sure at the end of the day you are doing things that uplift you and make feel good. This year, the best gift you can give yourself is self-care.

Look after yourself, and we’ll chat again in 2021.

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“If there’s something weird and it don’t look good. Who you gonna call?” (Part 2)

If you do find that you are struggling with mental health issues or are feeling as though you can’t cope with life, what do you do? And where do you turn? This month, I’ve connected with some mental health practitioners to provide guidance as to what the different mental health practitioners do, to guide those of us seeking therapeutic help and guidance.

Interview with a Social Worker:

What does a social worker do?

People normally think of statutory social workers who are involved with the removal of children. This is only one area of social work, and you need to be designated to statutory social work.

Our goal within social work is about how to develop communities and to help communities thrive. We work with individuals, groups and families. We consider what are your resources – what are you lacking and what have you got. Social work is about developing and helping people thrive individually, group and community.

We look at using resources. For example, how do we help families, we try and work with what you have available to you. If you are struggling to move, we build in exercises to help you move within your environment. We play to your strengths and sensory capabilities. It’s about using the resources you have to manage mental wellness

What is the difference between a social worker and a psychologist?

Although social workers are not involved in any diagnostic work, they work with people, and can be your first source of therapeutic healing. We can refer for extra support or input around diagnosis if required. We help clients develop skills and help to manage symptoms, once they have a diagnosis. We look at the impact on your life, and what we can do with that. For example, what are your triggers for depression, and when you see that happening, what do you do, what are your options, and strategies in this space eg checking in with a friend.

Social work gives clients practical resources. What does your depression mean practically? Where is it stopping our life and what can we do

When would someone need to see a social worker?

There is no one size fits all when it comes to treatment. Depending on approach you’re needing, at the time, it will determine who you approach. At the end of the day, if you are struggling to function – you need to speak to someone. And you need someone who is going to listen and understand to help you pick up the different threads. If you feel like things are unravelling, you should seek help, before you feel like you’re too stretched. It’s hard for many people to admit that they’re not coping.

How do you find a social worker?

The best place is to look at the SAASWIPP Website, and search by interest topic. Social workers need to be registered to be on the website, and you will find information on whether they are cash only or you can claim medical aid. All this information will be available

Anything you would like to add?

Different people connect with different practitioners – this is about a process and a journey.  While there has historically been a hierarchical perception and at times, real division between psychologists, there is most definitely space and a need for both.  Even as mental health practitioners, we should always be working within the best interests of our clients, ethically and professionally.  This should always guide practice.

Finding Help

“If there’s something weird and it don’t look good. Who you gonna call?” (Part 1)

Psychologist making sense of what client is saying, when it appears to be scrambled in patient mind
Psychologist depression consultation advice patient sitting talking character design flat vector illustration

If you do find that you are struggling with mental health issues or are feeling as though you can’t cope with life, what do you do? And where do you turn? This month, I’ve connected with some mental health practitioners to provide guidance as to what the different mental health practitioners do, to guide those of us seeking therapeutic help and guidance.

Interview with a Clinical Psychologist:

What does a psychologist do?

You get different kinds, but it depends on registration category. As a clinical psychologist, I am trained to treat and diagnose all clinical disorders, but also to help people through all hurt and pain.

What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

A Psychiatrist is a medical doctor and manages mental disorders with medication.

A Psychologist is a mental health professional, but not medical doctor. We can diagnose, but cannot prescribe medication, so a treatment plan involves psycho-therapeutic methods. Including behaviour techniques for clients. But more importantly helping clients heal through a supportive and caring relationship.

How do I know I need to see a psychologist?

As a necessity, things to look out for are suicidal thoughts and feelings, but also a struggle to live, where you are struggling to feel joy and the need to connect with others.

If ever you feel you need some kind of support, you can see psychologist. There are many of us who don’t have adequate support in their lives, and a psychologist can help provide that and help them build that into their lives.

Advice on finding a psychologist

My experience as a client and a therapist, is that race and culture matters. So I would recommend, that you seek out someone that you think would have sufficient lived experience that they could understand your context. Besides that, someone who is referred by a mental health professional is a good bet. And I would encourage you to look at people’s website, social media, to get a sense of the psychologist and their areas of interest.

Other types of psychologists

Counselling – They are not trained in diagnosing severe mental illness, but are able to offer psychological support and treatment for less severe emotional struggles.

Educational – They are involved in conducting psycho-educational assessments, diagnosing barriers to learning and helping to provide practical support and treatment plans for these learning barriers.

Neuropsychologist – They look at the impact of brain trauma on neuropsychological functioning.

Research psychologist – They conduct social science research in the area of social psychology in particular.

Other mental health professionals

Registered counsellors – They are not able to diagnose, but they are able to offer psychological and emotional support, to those suffering with less sever mental health concerns.

Clinical social workers – They are well trained in family and child work.

What is the therapeutic process like

Initially, the therapist needs to gain an understanding of why the client is struggling at this particular time, with these particular issues, given the unique path they’ve walked in life. The therapist is able to gain an understanding of the challenges they have, and what might be helpful in order to help them overcome these.

Anything else?

Prevention is better than cure, and while it might seem as though it is unnecessary, or even over pathologizing a situation to seek out therapy, if addressed early, things need a lot less therapy, and result in less emotional trouble. Even if one or two sessions can rule out what is causing trouble, it is better than leaving things ferment and causing other trouble.

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A permanent solution to a temporary problem

TRIGGER WARNING: Suicide

It was the middle of the night. And the fourth night that week that I was up at 1am, unable to sleep. I was reading package inserts to see the dosage I would need for overdose. And bemoaning the fact that based on the number of tablets I had, I would only damage my internal organs, and be forced to face the world anyway.

I’m no stranger to suicidal thinking. I have never ever attempted suicide, but I know far too many people who have, and of too many people who have committed suicide.

Project Semicolon quote

When it comes to suicide, people are confused by the act, think that it’s selfish, question what would drive someone to take their own life? It’s considered an act of weakness for people who are not brave enough to face the trials of life.

And in contradiction, when we hear someone talk about how they want to die, or they want to commit suicide, we brush it off as attention-seeking behaviour. If nothing else, please give these people attention. Rather a few minutes of attention to hear what is bothering someone, than a lifetime of missing someone who saw no way out other than taking their own life. And we are always left wondering why a person would take such extreme measures to end emotional pain. So let’s have these conversations before we have to grieve a loss.

Some things to understand about suicide:

  • It’s not death that the person desires, but the end of deep emotional pain.
  • The pain from challenging life circumstances is ongoing and there seems to be no end in sight.
  • Deep feelings of hopelessness
  • A deep-seated sense of loneliness and feeling alone in the world.
  • Self-hatred so deep that the world would seemingly be better without them.
  • Having nothing to live for because of perceived failures.
  • A sense that death is the only escape.
  • Certain medications have been known to cause suicidal thinking.

What can we do if we sense our loved ones are feeling suicidal, or if someone we know expresses suicidal thinking:

Help them seek professional help. Either psychologists, psychiatrists, suicide helplines.

Listen to them. Without trying to give advice, just listen. Accept how they are feeling – it doesn’t mean you are condoning the act of suicide, but that you are condoning them having very difficult feelings.

Anyone suffering with suicidality needs to be seen and heard, and shown that they are valuable and that the world needs them. Someone considering suicide, might feel like there is no one in the world who cares about them, and it may take just that one person to listen to make a difference.

The conversation you have needs to be matter-of-fact. If you react with emotion, like daring them to do it in anger, or acting shocked, or being judgemental, it will create further distance and feelings of loneliness. At this stage, this person needs to feel connected, and not experience any further challenging emotions.

The person may experience shame for feeling this way, but don’t let them swear you to secrecy. You need to seek help from a professional. Ask them if you can contact a family member.

If someone has expressed suicidal ideation, do not leave them alone, and do not leave them with the means to commit suicide. In that moment, seek the help that they need, through a suicide hotline, contacting hospitals, psychiatric facilities.

Show them that they are not alone in the world, and that you are there to listen to them. Sometimes that’s all someone needs is one person who shows them that they are wanted and needed.

Risks and warning signs:

  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Giving away possessions
  • Change in behaviour
  • Feeling worthless/hopeless/helpless
  • Not experiencing belonging
  • Sleep disruption
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling like a burden
  • Isolating from friends and family and withdrawing from activities
  • Calling people to say Goodbye
Semi colon your story isn't over yet

If you are experiencing suicidal ideation, first and foremost, seek professional help, or contact a helpline. And, if you are prone to suicidal thinking, it’s a good idea to have a safety plan for yourself:

  1. Know the warning signs, of how your mood, thoughts and behaviours change
  2. Have a list of people you can turn to (in the depths of emotional pain and loneliness, we sometimes forget who those people are)
  3. Make a list of activities to distract yourself (if you are feeling hopeless you could struggle to think of anything other than suicide)
  4. Make sure that you don’t have anything that can be used to commit suicide
  5. Make a list of relaxation techniques (e.g yoga, meditation, deep breathing, dancing)
  6. Make a list of professionals, and helplines you can contact.
Semicolons bring hope to fight instead of ending it all

At the end of the day, suicide is preventable, and it is important to have transparent conversations with loved ones whom you think are at risk. And if you are someone experiencing suicidal ideation, know that there is help out there, and it’s not weak to feel suicidal, nor is it weak to seek help.

References/Resources:
www.sadag.org

https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/basics/suicide

https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/the-mind-body-connection/202009/the-myths-and-warning-signs-suicide

https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/the-savvy-psychologist/201909/how-help-loved-one-struggling-suicidal-thoughts

SADAG contact details:

0800 21 22 23 (8am-8pm)

0800 12 13 14 (8pm-8am)

SMS: 31393

mental wellness

MENtal Health

The other day my son told me that they can’t cry because they are not babies any more, and I leapt at the opportunity to tell him that it’s always ok to cry. If you are feeling hurt, or sad, or angry, or even happy. It’s always ok to cry. I went on to say that even I cry, and his dad cries. Everybody cries.

Male with scribbles over head, and shoulder cracking

I’ve alluded to it before, how we are socialized differently, and how little boys are taught that it’s not ok to cry, or get hurt. And as men grow older, they are taught that it’s not ok to feel big emotions. No one wants to be accused of being hysterical (a word which has its origins in the anatomy of a woman – the Greek word for uterus). Historically, for a man to do anything like a woman is bad, don’t run like a girl, or throw like a girl, or cry like a girl.

But when it comes to mental health, the rate of suicide amongst men is double the rate it is amongst women, however, the rate of depression diagnosis amongst men is half the rate it is amongst women. Surely, there is something wrong here?

If so many men are in such despair that the only way they see out is to end their lives, why are there not more male diagnosis of depression, of feeling empty? If we could treat more men for depression, then we could reduce the rate of suicide amongst men.

Cartoon of drowning hand and "society" highfiving saying be a man

But to do this, we need to change our view of mental health amongst men. Seeking help in the form of therapy or other methods of mental health treatment should not be seen as something only women do. Men need to know about the benefits of talk therapy, and share it with their friends. Men need to learn the symptoms of mental illness, so that they can recognize it in themselves, but also in their friends.

There was a great campaign in the UK on bar coasters, where it asked questions like, “are you feeling a lot more angrier than usual?”; “do you not enjoy the things you used to enjoy?”; “are you feeling like you don’t fit in with your friends?”. These are the type of questions men should be asking themselves.

Depression isn’t only about sadness, and feeling weak, and something that only women experience. Depression is also increased anger and irritation. Feeling nothing. Decreased motivation. Just feeling off. Feeling like you don’t want to be with your friends, or that something is just different when you’re with them.

We need to teach men that it’s ok to not be ok. That it’s ok to cry. That it’s ok to ask for help. And to seek professional help.

The societal expectations of men are to be the heroes, the ones who stay strong for their families. But struggling with a mental illness leaves you feeling weak. And unable to take care of yourself, let alone your family. And because they’ve been raised to not talk about these feelings, and these fears of not living up to these societal expectations, all of these feelings are repressed and turned inwards. They may come out as anger or irritation, or the utter despair that leads to suicide.

Men learn early on, that it’s not ok to be introspective, to journal to dissect your thoughts, so why would talk therapy work? Women spend hours talking to their friends to solve problems and to discuss their lives “ad nauseum”. But for men, when there is a problem, they are taught that they need to man up, and punch things and fight. But the fact is, you cannot punch your mental illness.

We need to challenge the toxic masculinity that says we need to mock our friends for seeing a therapist, or for expressing emotions. Because that is what is causing the underrepresentation of male mental illness. Men are not doing well, and don’t want to express it to anyone for fear of being judged, or accused of “acting like a woman”.

We need to raise our boys to teach them that it’s ok to cry, no matter what age they are. It’s ok to feel sad, but it’s also ok to feel lonely, to feel empty. But most importantly, we need to teach them that when life is too much, we should seek help, from our family, our friends, or professional help if that’s what we need.

mental wellness

If you build it, they will come, but you will cope

Person pushing against falling pillars

The one thing that I’m sure we have all discovered is the importance of dealing with adversity. We are living in challenging times, aside from the difficulties of just living a normal life, of going to school and work, and shopping, having to sanitize, and always wearing a mask when you’re around other people. Also, the loss of income that has resulted from lockdowns and quarantines. Not being able to see or hug loved ones.

One thing that cannot be overlooked, is that the pandemic, despite the challenges and difficulties it has presented, but there are also lessons we have learnt in building resilience, and also some practices, that we can draw from this. One key thing in overcoming adversity is building resistance.

  1. Write it out

One thing that trauma or adverse experiences create in us, is the need to ruminate on negative thoughts and feelings. And when we are in a space of negativity, all we think about is that negative thought, and we allow it to grow. But if we are to build resilience to be able to overcome situations that we cannot control, we need to change the narrative when it comes to ruminating on negative thoughts. When you feel that wave of negative emotions, sit with the feeling, it’s also not good to pretend that we don’t feel bad things. And then write down how you are feeling. And then spin it into a positive.

2. Face your fears

Slowly expose yourself to the things that you are fearful of. For example, I am so fearful of shopping right now. The environment in the shops is somber, and the fact that we are all wearing masks, and there are rules for shopping, and the need to sanitize, and I do not feel safe around other people. They are all a potential source of Corona, and are therefore scary to me. So for me, initially, I just did a quick top up grocery shop, in and out, and I was done. Then after a few of these type of trips, I went to clothing stores, but I wanted something specific, so I went straight to that item, and then left just as quickly. And eventually I graduated, to browsing in book stores, and buying takeaway coffees.

3. Practise self-compassion

Be conscious of your feelings. Feel what you are feeling, without judgement. Describe the feeling to yourself, and where you feel it in your body. Don’t repress your feelings, like we so quickly do, because “feelings are bad”. “Being emotional is bad.” Give yourself the time to feel your feelings, and acknowledge them.

Also, remember that you are not alone. That everyone in the world experiences big emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling big feelings. And for not wanting to do anything. And to just want to cry. And to want to lie in bed all day. To feel deep anger and rage. To feel paralysed by overwhelm. Emotions are ok. And we all go through it.

And be kind to yourself. We are experiencing an incredibly difficult time right now, so it’s time to give yourself a break. And be compassionate with yourself and how you feel, and what you are going through. It’s ok.

4. Meditate

I’ve said it before, and it will come up again and again. Meditation has been scientifically proven to improve mood. It’s one of the best ways to remain mindful. Because for 5-10 minutes a day, you can just focus on your body, and your breathing, and truly be in the moment, and allow yourself to think about things, but then also to let those thoughts go. The easiest way to meditate, is to do a bodyscan, and focus on your breathing. Being in the moment, focusing on your body, and just breathing for a moment will help to improve your mood, and increase your calm.

5. Even bad has a bit of good in it

Spend some time appreciating the paradox of a traumatic event in world history like a pandemic. Even though we have lost certain freedoms we enjoyed, we have gained time at home with our family that we rarely get to experience. And even though we may feel vulnerable because of fears around contracting COVID, or losing family members or friends to Corona, we are ultimately developing strength that we didn’t know we had. We are playing multiple roles in our families, as parents, partners, teachers. Being forced away from our family members gives us strength to be on our own.

Sapling growing through snow

This pandemic is forcing us to relook our lives. We need to try and build resilience through dealing with our emotions, meditating, being self-compassionate and living out our new normal. We have been given the opportunity to review our lives and asses what we truly need, and when this is all over, what we are going to return to. We are living in tough times, and I encourage you to try and build resilience. It’s all we can do.

Sources:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_science_backed_strategies_to_build_resilience

https://hbr.org/2011/04/building-resilience

Uncategorized

Black Mental Health Matters:

Two black women surrounded by space and stars

For a moment in time, we have stopped talking about COVID-19, and focused on humanity, and the current discourse is about how none of us should be silent about racism. There is a call for us all to be anti-racist. As people of colour, if you do not speak up, you are agreeing with racism. As white people, you are colluding with racists by not speaking up.

I am a believer in justice and standing up for the disenfranchised, because I know what it is like to not have your voice heard. Without systemic justice, though, nothing will be fixed. Within a system that is just, individuals all have access to all opportunities. And no one is discriminated against for individual characteristics such as race or gender or socioeconomic status. Or, mental health.

Historically, mental health has been developed by white males, and still today, the majority of the field is still white, so where does that leave the unique challenges of suffering with a mental illness as a person of colour. A lot of research has gone into the diagnosis of mental illness and the development of the diagnostic tools. And these are reviewed to ensure that our definitions are relevant to the context within which we live. However, we are still using diagnostic tools, which are predominantly developed with a Euro-centric, Western understanding of human behaviour.

As an example, there is still an underdiagnosis of girls with ADHD because the symptoms were initially based on boys, and hyperactivity may look different for a girl, which is why many women are only diagnosed with ADHD in mid to late adulthood. The same goes for Autism. And because women are socialized differently in society, women on the Autism spectrum, are able to hide their symptoms, because there is a societal expectation to fit in, and behave in a certain way to be regarded as a woman in this society.

There is also an underrepresentation of men with mental illness, because there is still the stigma of mental illness being an indication of weakness. Men are not readily willing to admit that they are suffering, and also willing to seek help, for fear of not “manning up”, or appearing weak. Boys are taught that they are not to ask for help, or cry.

What about the cultural meaning of “hearing voices”, such as when the ancestors are speaking? Or when you are called to be a sangoma? There are a number of beliefs within the African, South American or Asian cultures, which can be explained away as a symptom of a mental illness. So how do we differentiate between cultural understanding and mental illness symptoms?

Aside from the stigma of mental illness, there is the stigma of seeking help for mental illness, and seeing a psychologist for a “white” disease. As a person of colour your family might not understand or agree with you struggling with a mental illness, and you might be judged, or ostracized for seeking help for a mental illness. And being that many causes of mental illness relate to family dynamics and triggers as a result of lack of family support, this presents quite the predicament.

And finally, access to mental health practitioners. The majority of psychologists are white, and the majority of therapy is conducted in English, and Afrikaans. When searching for a psychologist, you may want to see someone who fits the same demographic as you do, or speaks the same language as you. How difficult must it be to undergo therapy to uncover deep-seated emotional and identity issues in a second, or third, language?

 Also, the socioeconomic barrier for people of colour in having access to the mental healthcare professionals that they may need. A number of studies have been conducted on the inequality of healthcare systems, and mental health care is a privileged form of care, which further creates a barrier between the races and socioeconomic classes. Healthcare systems in South Africa have been shown to be unequally distributed within the country.

It’s also important to consider the fact that certain behaviours are prevalent amongst the impoverished, and when impacted by mental illness, they are not subtyped as being afflicted by mental illness, but are viewed as criminals or deviants. Because of unconscious bias in regards to race, there are certain characteristics attributed to certain races, like violence, which have the potential to result in misdiagnoses, or underdiagnosis. As an example, being lazy is attributed to being black, but one of the key symptoms in ADHD or depression is reduced productivity. This will be missed as a diagnosis, if it is assumed that the person is inherently lazy.

When considering mental wellness within the context of race (or gender, or sexuality), we need to acknowledge further layers of challenge, and stigma associated as a result. And ultimately the fact that anyone with mental illness, regardless of demographic wants to be heard and cared for, and understood.

Sources:

Counselling Psychology in South Africa by Jason Bantjies, Ashraf Kagee, and Charles Young

HPSCA Report of the Working Group on Promulgation of Regulations

Synergi Collaborative Centre briefing paper on priorities to address ethnic inequalities in severe mental illness