Are You Suffering From Mental Illness? October 12, 2018 00:00

Mental illness is very hard to understand and cope with if you don't understand or even recognise it.

October is Mental Health Awareness month, so I spoke to psychologist, Lorenzo Stride who has helped me through some very difficult patches in my life. Here are his insights.


What are the signs of mental illness?

The most commonly experienced mental illnesses are Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression.

Anxiety Disorder

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder include:

1) Bodily symptoms, which would include fatigue, restlessness, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, tingling soles of the feet, and sweaty palms.
2) Behavioural symptoms such as hypervigilance, irritability, short-temperedness and being easily angered by situations that one would normally have responded to in a healthier way,
3) Cognitive symptoms such as racing thoughts or unwanted thoughts, as well as an inability to concentrate;

Additionally one might experience excessive worry, nausea, lack of appetite, vomiting, feelings of fear, thoughts of impending doom, heart palpitations, dry mouth, or trembling.
If these symptoms last for longer than two weeks, then an assessment by a professional would be advised.

Clinical Depression

This is the persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest in what previously would've interested you.

The symptoms that characterise major depression can lead to a range of behavioural and physical symptoms, which may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behaviour or self-esteem. Depression can also be associated with suicidal ideation, sometimes with intent (actually trying to commit suicide), and sometimes without intent.

Other symptoms include:

1) Mood related symptoms : anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, sadness.
2) Sleep disturbances: early awakening, insomnia, restless sleep and hypersomnia.
3) Bodily symptoms: excessive hunger, fatigue, loss of appetite, restlessness, weight loss or weight gain.
4) Behavioural symptoms: agitation, excessive crying, irritability, and asocial tendencies.
5) Cognitive symptoms: lack of concentration, slowness in activity, and suicidal ideation
Additionally symptoms may include poor appetite or obsessive thoughts

Clinical Depression is a serious disease that could lead to death, but it is also highly treatable, so if you think you suffer from depression, seek out a professional for an assessment.

What are the habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves?

There are many factors that could lead to the experience or development of a mental disorder such as a recent or historical traumatic experience, a family history of psychological disturbances or mental illness, unresolved and un-validated emotions. In addition a stressful lifestyle with little balance could also be a contributing factor. Many mental health issues are simply organic, and are "just there" like Diabetes, Cancer, High Cholesterol, etc. The factors are thus quite varied.

What is it like to live with mental illness?

It can be quite a lonely and isolating experience as there is still a stigma attached to any mental disorder, more so than any physical disorder. People who experience any psychological difficulty often feel ashamed or embarrassed. Nevertheless mental disorders are legitimate and definitely treatable, so it shouldn't be looked at as something insurmountable.

What should you do if you feel you might be suffering from a mental illness?

The first thing to do would be to try and not panic and to consult with your medical doctor, who could refer you to a psychologist. Alternatively, take a friend or family member into your confidence and ask them to assist in the sourcing of a psychologist.

Does making positive life choices affect your mental health and is one actually capable of making truly positive choices if you’re suffering from mental health?

Making positive life choices certainly assists in the treatment of mental health issues. However, the person experiencing the mental health difficulty is often too incapacitated to start with the implementation of such life choices.

What would you consider to be positive life choices?

Meditation, exercising, a healthy eating plan, mindfulness, taking regular breaks from work and daily routine. In short, making yourself a priority, and doing things to add to your quality of life.

What can we do to help a loved-one we feel may be suffering from mental illness?

The best thing to do is to support your loved one by asking what they would like support with, and how they would like to be supported. Allowing your loved one to remain autonomous is important, but assisting as far as they need is helpful. Without consultation with your loved one, you're bound to make assumptions about what you think they might need, so it would be recommended to have a conversation about it to clarify what it is that they might need.

How can we best support a loved-one who is suffering from mental illness?

It is easy to assume that one knows what another would need based on what we feel we might need, but we're all different. Additionally, a positive, non-judgmental stance could really be helpful.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be useful in creating awareness?

It is important that we de-stigmatise mental health difficulties as they are no less legitimate than any physical health difficulties. The person with the mental health difficulty is most likely already judging themselves. So, seeing it in the same light as a physical illness is essential.


More about Lorenzo:

Lorenzo Stride is a psychologist who hails from Queenstown and East London in the Eastern Cape. He was educated at Rhodes University, which later became the University of Fort Hare, East London. He joined the practice of Cleanstart Wellness in August 2009,  where he was involved in the addiction and support programmes at the practice. Since then he started a private practice in Hyde Park, Johannesburg.

Lorenzo enjoys working with people and believes that your relationship with yourself is the most important one you will ever have while on this planet! If you're able to have a healthy relationship with yourself, other relationships automatically become healthier. A "Healthy You" is as essential as breathing - emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual, physical and social health. Unfortunately most of us are socialised to focus our energies on the health and wellbeing of others, which is important, but essentially it starts with you, and ends with you!

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