Be kind: How certain words can affect your mental health

Weak, attention seeker, crazy, nuts, cry baby, anti-social, moody, selfish, psycho, lazy, angry, bitter, bipolar, disturbed, schizo—have you ever said or had these words said to you? These are some of the hurtful words used when referring to someone experiencing a mental health condition.

October is World Mental Health Awareness month, which aims to educate the public about mental health and to reduce stigma and discrimination that people living with mental health condition are often subjected to. We all go through bad days and get anxious over daily life events. But that does not necessarily mean one has a mental condition. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and others define mental health condition, as a broad range of conditions that affect moods, thinking and behaviour. The most common types include; clinical depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, dementia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia and others. It is important to note that signs and symptoms of mental health condition are not commonly visible physically, therefore a proper medical diagnosis is critical. The good news about mental health condition is that it is manageable and treatable.  

The year 2020 has not been normal and has been triggering for many, to say the least. A lot has been said about the effects of COVID-19 on people with underlying conditions, but mental health condition also needs special attention. Lockdowns in particular were difficult for people living with mental health condition, and a recent South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) report shows an increase in mental health condition cases during COVID-19 lockdown. People without pre-existing mental health condition are also distressed and contributing to the increased numbers.

A few months ago, I went through the darkest moments of my life and experienced a lot of mental health issues. The events of life such as grief, social isolation, the transition from traditional ways of working to online platforms and not being able to be with my loved ones while they were ill triggered extreme anxiety. I am sure a lot of people went through the same struggles. It’s still a work in progress, but what helped me to cope the most was the application of a holistic approach. I consulted a doctor for assessment, diagnosis and medication. I was further referred to a therapist who helped with the psychological aspects of my anxiety disorder. And following a healthy lifestyle improved my mood and sleep. Above all, support from my family, friends and colleagues played a vital role in my recovery. When I broke down, I appreciated phone calls that came from a caring, judgement-free, asking me ‘how are you doing?’.  

As efforts to raise awareness about mental health continue throughout the month of October, you can also do your part. If you know someone showing signs and symptoms or not being their usual self, take the time to check-in on them—especially the ‘strong’ ones. Everyone needs supports especially during these trying times. Instead of calling and saying unpleasant words, provide emotional support so they can feel comfortable expressing their emotions, and feel less lonely and ashamed. Support from family and friends could help mitigate stigma and encourage more people to come out and seek help.

If you are experiencing distress or already know you live with a mental health condition, reach-out for help. There are organisations, such as SADAG, that specialize in providing psycho-support (in-person or virtually), referrals and information. Seek medical and spiritual help and take treatment as needed.

Take care of your mental health!

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