Your mental health is pretty vital. And in these strange and uncertain times, it's even more important to make sure you're really looking after yourself...
More than a year of living in a pandemic has been extremely tough, what with lockdowns, WFH (often while juggling home-schooling), economic woes and a lingering uncertainty over just about everything. Add to that the hospitalisations and deaths of family and friends which many of us are dealing with, and you have a year that's taken a heavy toll on our collective mental health.
"The pandemic is increasing the demand for mental health services," reveals a World Health Organization (WHO) survey. "Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering [new] mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia and anxiety."
The organisation has also delivered an ominous statement concerning people who are already struggling with some form of mental health condition. "People with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance-use disorders are also more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection - they may stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death," the WHO says.
So it's no wonder mental health professionals, like psychologist Charissa Bloomberg, are in such high demand right now.
Bloomberg says: "The ongoing global pandemic has left us fragile, struggling with all kinds of anxiety, and also dealing with loss and fear. This situation impacts work, life and home, and whereas children returning to school provides parents with renewed work impetus and time for themselves, it also presents heightened anxiety surrounding exposure. This is especially true if there are grandparents in the mix, who previously did a great deal of the work-hours childcare."
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) found in a survey that South Africans are reporting that their mental health got significantly worse in 2020. Worryingly, at least 12% said their situation had led to suicidal thoughts.
Bloomberg says that your mental fitness, resilience and fortitude are extremely important during this time. "So much emphasis has been placed on physical resilience and the immune system, but not much focus has been given to mental resilience, especially as we enter a second year with the pandemic controlling so much of what we feel comfortable doing, or not doing," she says.
"Because the long-term effects on our collective psyche will not be known for a long time to come, it really is essential that we look to our medical aids, hospital plans and mental health carers for expert support as we're forced to charge headlong into another COVID year," she says.
Medical aid plans offer specific mental health benefits, and many users don't know about this because they may not read the smallprint on their policies and there is a general lack of understanding of Prescribed Minimum Benefits, explains Alexia Graham, director at Hippo Advisory Services.
Prescribed Minimum Benefits is a defined set of benefits that ensures members have access to cover, regardless of their plan option. Major Depression illnesses such as Bipolar Mood Disorder and Schizophrenia relating to both in and out of hospital treatment for these conditions, form part of the Prescribed Minimum Benefit package.
Finding the right plan for your needs is a matter of weighing up the options and benefits against what you can afford. The best way to do that is to use the Hippo medical aid comparison tool, which will place the quotes side by side so that your options are laid out clearly.
If you breezed through all the lockdown levels in 2020, working and exercising online, with enough me-time and personal space in your own home, and also sufficient interaction with close friends and family, congratulations! Count yourself very, very lucky.
But if things have been a bit much of late, know that you're not alone. It's all about knowing where to seek help. In a crisis, call the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. But first investigate and make use of all the benefits offered by your medical aid or hospital plan.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or medical advice.