Stop suffering of those with mental illness

My daughter says that she usually gets nervous around a lot of people and panics. Recently her friend asked her if she has anxiety. What should I do?

Having an anxiety disorder can be painfully uncomfortable, frightening and debilitating. Panic attacks often come out of the blue but it seems your daughter’s anxiety and panicky feelings are related to specific social situations.

Social anxiety is a specific phobia of embarrassment in social settings.

People with this difficulty tend to avoid social situations out of fear of experiencing something embarrassing including losing control of themselves, fainting or making verbal errors.

The physical symptoms including heart palpitations, dry mouth, shortness of breath and muscular tension, often make them feel like they are “losing their minds” or may die. Usually what they report when rushed into emergency units is having felt like they’re having a “heart attack.” I would suggest that your daughter be assessed and treated by a mental health professional. See details on this page.

I also suffer from anxiety and depression. What can I do to overcome it?

Anxiety and depression are common mental health problems which are often underestimated in terms of their effects on the sufferer and their family. But these conditions can become debilitating, causing significant “dysfunction” and can affect anybody.

The more we acknowledge the universality of mental health problems, the less we will stigmatise them and the more likely we will seek and obtain appropriate help that’s available. I am really pleased that you are seeking help. This shows your courage to fight the stigma and not suffer in silence anymore.

I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. What is the breathing method and how many times a day should I do this?

A simple breathing method can assist to bring down the physical sensations that are associated with anxiety which are the autonomic nervous system’s response to threat (real or perceived), that is preparing the body for “flight’” or “fight”.

First take a slow deep breathe through your nose, hold it for as long as you can, and slowly breathe out through your mouth. Take another slow deep breath, hold it again for as long as you can but this time breathe out slowly through your nose. The sensation is usually a sense of greater calm and mental agitation is reduced. You can repeat this a few times and whenever you need to. However, this is not a cure for anxiety problems and you still will need to seek professional help.

I am going through a divorce and now I am feeling so depressed and can’t even eat or sleep. I do not have anybody who I can speak to about what I am going through.

Professional support can help you deal with the difficult process of divorce and adjusting to a new life without your partner. I am hoping that you will also seek out the support of a few trusted people in your community including at your place of worship, if you have one. You could also try Lifeline which has a 24-hours call centre.

Thank you so much for the article about mental health. I never knew anxiety and depression are forms of mental health. My doctor diagnosed me as having these two years ago. I received medication but never saw a psychologist and am not sure what the medication is supposed to do. Does this illness make you physically ill? Because I never get the right information.

It is my belief that even doctors need to be more educated in the field of mental health. Even they have biases toward mental health problems and overlook or frown upon the patient who comes to see them with a mental health condition. They might tell the person to look on the bright side, not be so negative, be thankful that it is not worse. Although this kind of positive thinking has a place, it can be misleading to inform a person who has a debilitating mental health condition to buckle up, or not explain to them why they are getting particular medication and that these need to be followed up regularly.

Many medical health professionals may also feel uncomfortable with emotional or psychological issues and so they may struggle to recognise these problems. If the depression is not treated, it can impact on your physical health, sleep and eating patterns as well as your general wellbeing.

I want to salute you on writing a very timely and informative article. We need this type of education to eradicate stigma. Those were precious lives lost (through the Life Esidimeni Centre closures) yet many people I came across were unaware it had even happened.

One of my most profound desires is to spread the word of the value of optimal mental health and its powerful force in contributing toward the growth of a society, as well as helping people to find resources to heal and empower themselves when they have been hurt, traumatised, dehumanised, neglected and unloved.

Additionally, we need resources to establish free or low-fee psychotherapeutic clinics where psychologically wounded people can come for regular treatment.

Many people in our country have become numb to injustices and gross violations of human rights. I believe it is because abuse and violence has become such a norm in our society that we have become walled off from our feelings. When we have lost our sense of humanity and compassion for each other, we are on a very slippery slope making our world feel much more precarious, frightening and us much more paranoid and anxious.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. While she cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers, she will try to answer as many queries as possible through this column or refer you to organisations that can assist. You can write to her at Send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.