October has been declared Mental Health Awareness month by the government and the focus is on educating South Africans about the issue, as well as reducing the stigma and discrimination that those living with mental health conditions.
While over 400 million people around the world suffer from conditions like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depressive disorder among others, the current Covid-19 pandemic which has resulted in the country going under lockdown, has resulted in a lot of sufferers feeling helpless.
Saturday 10 October is the day aimed at creating public awareness to make issues related to mental health a global priority.
Milnerton resident, Adin van Ryneveld (43) has been living with bipolar disorder since 2002 when he was 25.
“I had my first manic episode then and it was actually triggered by my drug use,” he says.
He often has weeks of manic episodes and is then admitted to a psychiatric ward.
This is followed by years of what many would call a normal life. The highs he experiences during his manic episodes are what he describes as the most amazing feelings he has ever felt.
“I have likened it to being on all the drugs in the world at the same time, but without the down,” he explains.
Becoming manic, Van Ryneveld says, is appealing.
“I feel like the most important person in the world and feel like I can do anything.”
This is followed by feelings of depression.
“Depression is very hard to explain; your brain works well enough for you to be able to think about why you should feel good, but you just can’t feel it.
“It is like a physiological inability to experience happiness. Depression is the most disgusting thing I have ever experienced.
“It is almost impossible to do the slightest things, even things that you know would make you feel better. It is quite paralysing.”
His experience is that many people who live with mental health conditions feel the need to hide their condition from others.
“This is both socially and professionally. Mental illness is so misunderstood, people do not talk about it so it has become a taboo subject. I wish this was not the case and I do believe it is getting better.”
He wishes more people go public with their diagnoses in order to claim back their power.
This has led him to start the #ihaveamentalillness on social media.
For Van Ryneveld the lockdown has been one of the most difficult times.
“I was starting to be in a good space when lockdown started and then suddenly felt a dip in my mood.
“I think this is natural and something that even people without mental illness struggled with.”
“I did have a manic scare during lockdown, but I contacted my doctor immediately and we changed my meds and I didn’t end up going manic. I believe that manic scare would have happened even if there was no pandemic too.”
This period disturbed his routine and he had to find ways to keep sane.
“I am only now getting back to normalcy. I take daily walks in the mornings and afternoons.”
He recently went hiking on Lion’s Head and says it felt good to be active again.
“I have become very unfit and was quite afraid of going up thinking I would not make it, but my friend was very patient with me and waited when I needed to stop.”
During his last manic episode, Van Ryneveld called LifeLine, a support organisation assisting people who often think about ending their lives, and the person on the other end of the line helped him get through his dilemma.
This led to him building a close relationship with the organisation and he has since signed up to take part in the Life 500 Open Games to raise funds for the organisation.
His contribution to Lion 500 Open Games is for him to create and post 500 vlogs telling his story of living with bipolar disorder.
“When I agreed to participate in the Lion 500 Open Games, my friend suggested that I choose LifeLine, the charity I support, because of our close relationship.”
Janine Roos, director for the Mental Health Information Centre of South Africa, says education surrounding mental health, early recognition and treatment is necessary.
She says it is difficult for people living with mental health conditions to find help and organisations, like the one he works for, are called to help with care information and referrals. Social support is a key component of solid relationships and good psychological health, Roos says.
“A good support system from family and friends has many positive benefits, better coping skills and a healthier life.
“It is social support that helps in times of stress and emotional distress and this can have a protective benefit against maladaptive behaviours and damaging health consequences.”
Roos says Covid-19 and its ripple effects could have had a negative impact on individuals with mental health problems.
“During this time many adults reported negative impacts on their mental health such as difficulty sleeping, anxiety, increased alcohol and substance use and worsening conditions because of worry about the coronavirus.
“Social isolation and loneliness are linked to poor mental and physical health. Routine gives security to those living with mental illness and any disruption in their routine would cause anxiety and/or a worsening of the illness.”
V Those seeking support can call the South Afican Depression and Anxiety Group on 0800 456 789 or LifeLine on 210 813 6878.
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