‘More needs to be done about awareness’

Kelly Crowster, 27, from Crawford, is on a mission to create awareness around mental illness and suicide.

With Mental Health Awareness month ending today, Wednesday October 31, and the death of artist Jabulani Tsambo, better known as Hip Hop Pantsula (HHP), still fresh in people’s memory, it is clear more needs to be done around creating awareness about mental illness.

Although not confirmed, it is suspected that HHP committed suicide. His body was found in his house on Wednesday October 24. He had admitted, during a radio interview two years ago, that he suffered from depression and had tried to commit suicide three times the previous year.

Kelly Crowster, 27, from Crawford, is among those who strongly believe that more needs to be done to create awareness around mental illness and suicide. She tried to commit suicide in August, and has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

“I wore a mask for so long. I had a fake smile. Trauma can lead to chemical imbalances on the brain, which can lead to depression.

“Some people might think that after a suicide attempt, the person is just looking for attention, but it is not so. I don’t think people are educated enough about anxiety. I could not walk and I lost 10kg within a month. I could not concentrate. I am blessed that I received the help I needed though, and I am now able to cope and am managing my condition,” Ms Crowster said.

She added that although people were more comfortable speaking about their mental health challenges these days, there was still lots more which could be done, which is why she wants to create awareness around it.

Clinical psychologist Nurain Tisaker, said in general, mental health issues were on the rise, “mainly because people are starting to recognise the need for help, and have started to report symptoms to healthcare professionals”.

Ms Tisaker added that modern lifestyles added to the pressure, and as people tried to live up to financial or social pressure, some may present with symptoms related to generalised anxiety, depression or substance abuse.

“Awareness about mental health remains necessary and it continues to be essential. It is only through awareness that those who are suffering with conditions may find the courage to seek help, be adequately treated or speak out about their struggles.

“There is definitely still a stigma attached to mental illness within a South African context. It is often viewed as something that either affects more ‘elite’ or upper class communities or individuals or that the person experiencing the condition is ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’. We have a long way to go before this stigma will be shattered,” Ms Tisaker said.

Ms Crowster said she used to isolate herself, and often told her friends she needed to be alone. However, this is not something she would advise people to do.

According to Ms Tisaker, this is one of the signs that a person is suffering from a mental health condition.

“There are various signs to look out for depending on the specific mental health condition. Often the common signs include a significant change in behaviour and overall mood. For example, the person appears to be more sad, depressed or anxious and this results in a behaviour change where they are now isolating from others or avoiding activities they once enjoyed.

“Other changes to be aware of are significant changes in patterns of eating ie eating more or less (appetite change) as well as changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping too little or too much),” she said.

Ms Tisaker added that there was help even for those people who did not have access to private health care.

A general practitioner (GP), at a state facility can refer a patient to a psychologist for an assessment, she said.

“Government services through public health are often under strain, but they are available and when services are offered, they certainly do help those in need.”

Ms Tisaker added that friends and families could help their loved ones by trying to understand their individual experiences.

“Saying that the person needs to ‘get over’ what they are experiencing or denying their experience of symptoms is not helpful. A significant point is around encouraging the person to speak openly about what they feel and also allowing them to access the necessary help is vital.”

Ms Crowster is grateful she got the help she needs, and now wants to ensure that mental health awareness is not only promoted during October. She hopes to contribute to this by having talks at high schools and to also address the issue around bullying.