It’s part of our human condition to feel sad, depressed, angry, anxious or euphoric in response to the many challenges life presents us. It’s when these emotions persist, or have no specific cause, and start to affect your ability to function in daily life that you need to stop and take stock.
There’s no simple blood test or other scientific measure to detect if you have a mental illness – diagnosis rests on the analysis of a psychologist or psychiatrist, who can assess you in terms of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This guide explains the signs and symptoms of hundreds of mental health conditions, from anorexia through clinical depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, to the likes of social phobia, schizophrenia and voyeurism.
Keep an eye out for these warning signs
Each condition has its own specific signs and symptoms, but in general you should seek help if you experience the following – or if others you trust are concerned about you (you may not be able to detect signs yourself):
- No energy or lack of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Distinct change in your personality, behaviour, eating or sleeping habits
- Inability to cope with problems or daily activities
- Strange, grandiose, “delusional” ideas
- Excessive anxiety or prolonged depression or apathy
- Excessive anger and agitation
- Extreme mood swings
- Loss of interest or pleasure in things you enjoyed
- Social withdrawal or isolating yourself from family, friends and work
- Excessive use or abuse of substances such as alcohol, drugs, over-the-counter medication
- Thoughts about suicide or ending your life
If you tick some of these criteria, or are in any way concerned about your mental well-being, speak to your healthcare professional, who can direct you to a psychologist, or contact the SA Depression and Anxiety Group by calling 0800 21 22 23 or SMSing 31393.
Don’t let shame or fear hold you back: it’s estimated that nearly one in three adults will suffer some form of mental disorder in their lifetime, according to the South African Stress and Health Study.
Try these simple steps to boost your mental well-being
Eat a wholesome, balanced diet
The importance of good nutrition from an early age has been explored in many studies, and a systematic review found that poor diet – high in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and processed foods – is associated with poorer mental health in children and adolescents, notes the Mental Health Foundation, UK. There seems to be a link between certain nutrients and emotional health, including omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, vitamin D, magnesium, B vitamins and tryptophan, all of which occur in foods that form part of a healthy diet.
Psychology Today reports that just 30 minutes a day can be as effective against mild and moderate depression as any other treatment, and help even in serious cases. Exercise releases endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that enhance feelings of well-being, takes your mind off worries, builds confidence and promotes social interaction.
Make time to relax
Even if you’re a naturally hard worker, you need to take breaks to prevent burnout. However busy you are, put aside a few minutes each day for things you enjoy. Just talking to other people can make you feel better – reach out to a friend you can unburden with and feel less alone. Also schedule regular “me-time” to recharge. Get a hobby, walk the dog, and have something to look forward to each day, even a soapie on TV. “It doesn't have to be significant or cost money,” says Gauteng clinical psychologist Dr Colinda Linde. “The point is to have a period of downtime daily, where you’re just in the moment and not busy – even mentally – with work.”
For free self-assessments, visit these SA Depression and Anxiety Group sites:
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