Nobody wants to be labelled ‘mentally ill’, but mental-health issues are more common than most people think. Isn’t it time to remove the negative stigma?

In recent months news headlines have been full of high-profile suicides and celebrities opening up about their continuing battles with mental illness.

Hip hop artist HHP (Jabulani Tsambo) is alleged to have committed suicide in October last year, after having publicly opened up about struggling with depression and having previously attempted to end his life.

For many of us, it is a shock to realise that even the rich and famous, who seem to have it all, can suffer from the effects of depression. However, as LifeLine Connect Counselling Services Manager Nicole Imerman says, mental illness does not discriminate. No matter our nationality, age, ethnicity, gender, religion, bank balance or anything else, we all have an equal chance of developing mental illness. 

‘When celebrities share their stories it often has a positive effect, as it helps to reduce the stigma around mental illness,’ says Imerman. ‘With mental illness – unlike physical illness – we can’t see it, and when we can’t see something, it is often very difficult to understand.’ She adds that for some people it’s a case of, ‘I can’t see it, so it doesn’t exist.’

Celebrities sharing their struggles can often lessen the sense of isolation for other sufferers, and encourage people to seek help. Imerman cautions, however, that seeking advice through professional counselling services is vital, as there is no guarantee that the advice received from a celebrity or through one’s personal social networks will be accurate or helpful. 

LifeLine, for example, offers free and donation-based counselling services to people in distress at all of their 26 centres throughout South Africa, as well as in Botswana and Namibia. LifeLine counsellors do not diagnose clients, but can refer them on to appropriate specialists should their intervention be required.

The three most common mental health conditions are depression, substance abuse and anxiety/panic. Symptoms of depression range from low mood to suicidal thoughts. Substance abuse often causes more obvious symptoms and signs of anxiety can range from shortness of breath to fear of dying. If you or anyone you know has shown any of the symptoms every day for more than two weeks, a specialist should be consulted in order for a proper diagnosis to be made and suitable treatment to be prescribed.

According to Imerman, family and friends often don’t know exactly how to get involved when they are concerned about a loved one. ‘They feel helpless because they don’t want to be judgemental,’ she explains. Imerman suggests that if you are concerned about the mental health of a friend, relative or anyone else you care about, the Three-L formula can be helpful: Look, Listen and Link.

‘Firstly, look,’ she says. ‘What is it about the person’s behaviour that is worrying you? For example, are changes in eating or sleeping habits concerning you? Share these observations with the person in a non-judgemental way.’

Next, says Imerman, ‘Listen to hear, not to judge or respond.’ Often we think that by giving advice, we are being helpful – but what is really needed is simply to listen to what the person is saying, and to acknowledge that you have heard what they have shared.

Finally, she says, ‘Help your loved ones by linking them to the necessary resources. Work with them to find the right solutions, so you can assist by connecting them to the appropriate expert.’


Clinical Depression
· Low mood
· Low energy
· Even the easiest task (making the bed/doing the dishes) seems impossible
· A feeling of helplessness
· Constant negative thoughts about yourself and your life
· Loss of interest in doing things you normally enjoy
· Irritability
· Fatigue
· Sleeplessness, or sleeping too much
· Loss of appetite, or overeating
· Suicidal thoughts

Anxiety and Panic
· Shortness of breath
· Heart palpitations
· Tunnel vision
· Dizziness
· Chest pains
· Shaking
· Feeling very hot or cold
· Fear of losing control
· Fear of dying

Alcohol/substance abuse
· Regularly consuming more of the substance than planned
· Craving the substance
  Developing withdrawal symptoms (sweating, anxiety, hallucinations or physical agitation) when abstaining 
· Regular attempts to cut down, or quit, but failure to do so
· Giving up other activities in order to use the substance
· Continued use even though it causes health problems

By David Ford

Resources for advice and support on mental-health issues:

South Africa
LifeLine National share call: 0861 322 322
Facebook: LifeLine.Johannesburg
South African Depression & Anxiety Group (SADAG)
24-hour helpline: 0800 12 13 14;

LifeLine: +267 391 1270
Facebook: LifeLine Organisation Botswana
Botswana Crossroads Counselling Centre: +267 72 763 167

Partners in Health: +266 2231 2399
Mohlomi Mental Hospital: +266 2231 1104

LifeLine: +264 61 226 889
Facebook: LifeLineChildLineNamibia
Bel Esprit Clinic: +264 81 455 0945

National Psychiatric Referral Hospital: +268 2505 5170
Matsanjeni Health Centre: +268 2207 8964

WHAT IS MENTAL ILLNESS? WHAT IS MENTAL ILLNESS? Reviewed by Jet Club on March 20, 2019 Rating: 5
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