Normalise mental health to help SA heal from pandemic
Managing chronic conditions made more convenient
Wednesday 29 June 2022, Seeking help for a mental health condition should be as ‘normal’ as for any other health condition. While mental health suffered globally, particularly during the earlier stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, in South Africa it is believed that only a fraction of people who could benefit from treatment receive it.
“According to several studies in South Africa, there is a glaring disparity between the prevalence of mental health conditions and professional treatment for these often-debilitating illnesses, ”says pharmacist Joy Steenkamp of Medipost Pharmacy, South Africa’s longest established national courier pharmacy.
Stigma leads to silent suffering
“No one should feel embarrassed to seek medical attention, but many people who struggle with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] and other mental health difficulties often fear stigmatisation. Tragically, this creates an invisible, yet damaging, barrier to treatment and many people continue to suffer silently as a result, thereby affecting their health, their relationships, and their ability to function at work or school,” she says.
“Just as there is no shame in receiving treatment for a chronic illness, such as diabetes or hypertension, it should be no different when it comes to mental health. No one chooses these conditions, and it is not a sign of weakness. People should know that they are not alone – it has been estimated that one in three people in South Africa will experience difficulties with mental health at some point in their lives1.
“We need to normalise mental health in our society to address the stigma, which knows no gender or ethnic limits and affects men and women alike from all backgrounds. Building awareness and understanding of mental health issues in our families and our communities would help people to reach out for the assistance they need, without the fear of prejudice,” Steenkamp says.
Talk to your pharmacist or doctor
“The relationship of trust between pharmacy professionals and patients is an opportunity to promote understanding and access to mental health resources. As one of the healthcare professions that is most accessible to patients, because people do not need an appointment to speak to their pharmacist, we are in a privileged position to listen and understand our patients’ needs and remain vigilant about mental health,” she says.
“When it comes to mental health, part of our care includes helping people not to feel overwhelmed about taking the first step of asking for professional help. When patients describe symptoms that could potentially be signs of undiagnosed or uncontrolled mental health conditions – for example changes in sleeping patterns or eating habits, or new onset of panic attacks – we encourage them to seek assistance from a relevant professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, or their general practitioner as a starting point.”
“If a registered psychiatrist or other appropriate professional finds you may benefit from further support, the treatment approach may include medication, talk therapy and learning skills to help you cope in your everyday life. These may be prescribed either individually or in combination to help you manage the condition.”
Pharmacy advice for starting new medicine
“Medicines for mental health conditions usually need to be taken each day as prescribed. Keep in touch with your prescribing practitioner, pharmacist and support networks, as sometimes you may experience an adjustment period. Do not feel disheartened if you don’t immediately feel better, as it usually takes between two weeks and a month before improvements are felt,” Steenkamp advises.
“Sometimes medicines may cause side effects, such as headache or nausea, initially but these are usually mild and subside after a few days. If you find these side effects bothersome, patients should contact the prescribing doctor with these concerns, as a change in dosage may be necessary.”
Mental health conditions often require ongoing consistent management, and people should not stop taking their prescribed medicine once they feel better.
“Never stop taking medicine without the advice of your treating doctor. Ceasing medication suddenly, or ‘cold turkey’, can cause a rebound of symptoms and exacerbate unstable emotions. If it is recommended that you switch to a different medicine, the prescriber will normally give instructions on how to slowly taper the dosage from one medicine while adjusting the dosage of the new medicine accordingly to help make the transition as smooth as possible.”
Patients who are registered with Medipost Pharmacy can speak to the pharmacy team for clinical advice over the phone in their choice of any of the 11 South African official languages. Medipost Pharmacy makes it easy, convenient, and discreet to receive monthly deliveries of medicines used to treat mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
“Any medicine that is taken regularly for a long-term condition is classified as chronic medication, for which Medipost Pharmacy provides free delivery to any address in South Africa. For those who are on medical aid, our service also includes claiming medications from the correct benefit limit to help conserve day to day benefits. The outer packaging of our parcels doesn’t show any sign of what medicine is inside or what condition it is for, so your privacy and medical confidentiality are protected,” she says.
“Mental health should be prioritised, not marginalised. For people who are experiencing depression or other psychiatric conditions, it may be difficult to imagine life beyond how you feel when you are unwell. There is hope with the support of healthcare professionals including your pharmacy team in your treatment plan.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with your mental health, there are a number of valuable mental health organisations that provide support and help people to connect with local resources. These include the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) helpline, which can be reached on 0800 456 789, and the Akeso 24-hour mental health crisis emergency line on 0861 435 787.
Reference and further reading:
For more information, please visit www.medipost.co.za
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Medipost Pharmacy
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville and Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone: (011) 469 3016