In this country, mental health issues have often been stigmatised, especially in the black community. Arguably, a lack of knowledge has been the biggest contributor to this.
Another stumbling block in the past has been cultural, where certain behaviours are attributed to madness or supernatural influences. With the advent of time, this has started to change.
According to clinical psychologist Dr Palesa Mahlangu, even those in her profession are becoming aware of the importance of meeting patients halfway.
“It’s also encouraging where you now find psychologists also moving towards respecting and acknowledging the importance of indigenous ways of understanding the world,” she said.
She stressed that understanding where a patient is coming from allows for a dialogue to happen, where the patient can then understand that maybe they’re suffering from a mental issue rather than something that was inflicted on them.
“For me, it is really important that we need to acknowledge where people are at and then dialogue with them up to a point where they realise that, ‘OK, this may not necessarily be caused by what I thought’ . But we start with a dialogue, then educate them.”
The mental health issue that Sowetan was discussing with Mahlangu is anxiety disorder.
“Anxiety is a normal response to worry or stress but when it is very severe or long-lasting or disproportionate to what is happening or the situation, it can become known as anxiety disorder,” she said.
The symptoms of the disorder manifest differently in everyone but there are some common symptoms.
There are also various types of anxiety – generalised anxiety, social, panic attacks, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or behaviours. Of these, the most spoken about are arguably panic attacks.
Normally when a person is suffering an attack, these are the symptoms to look out for:
Physical distress – for a few minutes;
Racing, pounding heartbeats;
Tingling/numbness in hands
Sense of unreality;
Fear of losing control or going crazy; and
Fear of dying.
Mahlangu recommends psychotherapy to help treat this disorder.
“It would not be counselling, per se, it would be psychotherapy because it needs to be clinically based, looking at symptoms then doing things like cognitive behavioural modification,” she said.