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World Mental Health Day

by | From Debra’s Desk, Summer 2023

World Mental Health Day: ‘We must combat mental-health myths so we are not stuck in the Emotional Middle Ages,’ says UP expert

By Dr Hanlé Kirkcaldy, the Head: Student Counselling Unit (SCU) and Clinical Psychologist the University of Pretoria. World Mental Health Day is commemorated on 10 October annually.

Suicide is a difficult and emotional subject, and as such we often refrain from discussing it objectively. We are sensitive to the effect open discussion may have on others who may have lost loved ones to suicide. The topic is shrouded in taboo and myth, as if no one understands why this happens, as if the mere mention will somehow magically exacerbate the problem – and as if there is little we can do to prevent it. That is simply not true.

As we approach the end of the academic year at universities all over South Africa, two very important dates are marked on the mental health calendar: On 10 September we commemorated World Suicide Prevention Day, and on 10 October we will commemorate World Mental Health Day.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) calls upon all countries to observe these dates, in an effort to reinforce the fact that mental health is a basic human right, and that we must do all we can to try to prevent suicide in our communities.

Mental health practitioners have a very good idea of suicidal risk factors. It has to do with what happens to all of us – life. It is, however, impossible to eliminate all the risks life throws at us. There is no surefire way to prevent mental illness, or avoid acute loss and life crisis, or chronic physical pain, or addictions, or trauma, or bullying, or rejection. However – and this is an important and often missed however – we can put measures in place that protect against the effect of these occurrences. We can definitely minimise the detrimental reaction to acute life events, and we can hope to intervene in time when symptoms of mental distress are displayed.

Does this model sound familiar? Of course, it does. We know that we could all be at risk for cancer, or diabetes, or high blood pressure – and that putting countermeasures in place will mitigate the risks. This understanding is almost second nature to us. In a modern society we know that prevention is better than cure when it comes to ill health. That is why we exercise, eat healthily, and watch our weight. Health information and preventative measures are the keys to longevity and health. Without it we are back in the Middle Ages.

Having access to care, and taking care of yourself, is where the answer lies. Building self-esteem, being part of a connected group or community, taking part in activities that provide meaning to your life, and working on positive relationships will protect you against mental ill-health. It will build your wellness and mental fitness. Adverse life situations will occur, but having a skill set and a mindset that is open to change and growth – and seeing problems as potential challenges – can turn the tide. Accessing external resources and drawing on your own often hidden (but considerable) strengths will assist with coping and building resilience.

Combating myths and misinformation about mental health is indeed a basic human right – it is a practice that should be fostered in all our universities and public spaces. Everyone should be provided with lifesaving information and understand that treatment is available. Everyone should know how to prevent stress from becoming distress and eventually a disorder. If not, we are stuck in the emotional Middle Ages.

All love Debra

Debra Robins

Debra Robins

Odyssey‘s custodian & editor

Debra Robins is a savvy and insightful corporate jungle escapee, wordsmith, author, publisher and magazine editor, Debra is passionate about upliftment through the power of the written word. Former natural healer, teacher and healing academy principal Debra blends together extensive expertise in wellness, both in the corporate and personal contexts, as well as over 25 years’ experience in driving and delivering corporate wellness initiatives for local and global corporations. Student of law and corporate consultant by trade, naturopathic practitioner by design and magazine editor by choice. Debra is honoured to be the custodian of Odyssey Magazine