Akeso launches online ‘note to self’ mental health campaign on World Mental Health Day
Mental health and well-being are integral to overall health, and the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day – ‘Greater investment, greater access. Everyone, everywhere’ – on Saturday, 10 October, seeks to address the barriers to accessing mental healthcare. Akeso, which has a network of mental health facilities across South Africa, is inviting the public to share their thoughts in an online campaign to promote understanding and tackle some of the misconceptions that fuel mental health stigma. “This year’s theme highlights the significance of mental health to everyone, how important it is to ensure that each and every one of us invest in our own mental well-being and that as a global society, we must invest more resources in mental health services to ensure equitable access for everyone, no matter where they are,” says Dr. Sandile Mhlongo, managing director of Akeso. He notes that perhaps only secondary to underfunding, the stigma around mental health remains one of the greatest challenges impacting access to care. “This happens when one worries what others might think of them should they seek care. Often there are misconceptions that mental health afflictions like depression and anxiety indicate a level of ‘weakness’ and that you should ‘just get through’ any issues you are facing,” he says. The ‘note to self’ campaignWith this in mind, Akeso launches a ‘note to self’ mental health campaign on World Mental Health Day, aiming to address some of the misconceptions around mental health and to promote understanding of these experiences. All members of the public are invited and encouraged to leave mental health ‘notes to self’ via our online platform: https://forms.gle/EGoK5fd4vtdcXKXM8. Contributors are not asked for their name, so all comments are anonymous. This platform will be open for submissions from 10 October to 10 November. The messages received from the public will then be posted to a virtual message board at https://padlet.com/akesoclinics/u1sx3qah31ptz2q0 where individuals can look for their own notes while gaining insight by reading the notes posted by others. “Mental well-being is fundamental to our ability to thrive and realise our full potential, to think and relate to others, and perhaps most importantly, to earn a living and enjoy a meaningful productive life. Mental health is an integral and essential component of health; there is no health without mental health,” Dr. Mhlongo adds. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in the demand for mental health services due to factors such as social isolation, anxiety, and fear of illness or death, real or potential loss of income, among others. In many instances, this has exacerbated pre-existing mental health conditions while in others it has brought about new mental health challenges and illnesses. “Many of us experience daily ruminations and afflictions of a stressful life and anxiety about work or our loved ones. In such cases, mental health self-care activities can often be helpful and offer preventative and health-promoting benefits that are usually sufficient to maintain good mental health,” Dr. Mhlongo says. “Others experience far more complex challenges that require professional and holistic multi-disciplinary care for appropriate management of a mental health condition and a return to optimal functioning. “It is our hope that Akeso’s online campaign will assist in opening up conversations about capabilities and defying misconceptions while stimulating engagement on mental health matters so that South Africans are empowered and encouraged to seek help when needed.” Assistance for mental health issues come with an array of services, which include support groups, outpatient consultations, medication, and, in some cases hospitalisation. When is it time to reach out for help?Akeso has created the following simple ‘CRISIS checklist’ that may help individuals to identify when they or a loved one may require professional mental health support. C Changes in your eating or sleeping patterns, or changes to your moodR Reactions to things – how are you reacting to your daily tasks and challenges? Are you getting frustrated or angrier more easily? Are you able to concentrate on a task?I Ideas that you may be better off dead or ideas about harming yourselfS Symptoms of physical illness that cannot be explained e.g. chronic fatigue, persistent headaches, backaches, etc.I Interactions with others – how have you been engaging with your loved ones, your colleagues, and others? Is this different from usual?S Social withdrawal and lack of interest in things you previously enjoyed. “If you notice these changes in your life, or are concerned about a loved one, we urge you to seek help from a professional near you to understand more about what might be happening and how you can address it. Often, that is the first step towards better mental health,” Dr. Mhlongo says. “This October, and every day, let’s make a conscious effort to speak up about mental health and try to empathise with those around us. Check-in with your loved ones, your colleagues, and friends, and reach out to someone if you are struggling. Together, we can change the views on mental health for the better,” he concludes.