Mental health is a concept that still holds much stigma. Even though there has been somewhat of a shift over the recent years to decrease the negative connotations and stereotypes around mental health, many people still hold on to the notion that mental health is for those who are “crazy” or who have “a mental illness.” It is only in more recent times that more people have become more comfortable with the idea of seeking mental health assistance, but that does not hold true for the majority of South Africans.

The truth of the matter is that everyone should be cognisant of their own mental health and make it a priority to ensure that one has the means and abilities to live a holistic balanced life in which one is able to cope during times of stress or pain. Mental health does not only refer to mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety, but rather encompasses a much broader concept and includes the notion of psychological and emotional wellbeing in order for one to live a happy and productive life. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease” (2010).

The WHO (2010) goes on further to say that mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. In this positive sense, mental health is the foundation for individual well-being and the effective functioning of a community.”

In South Africa we have a diversity of cultures, each with their own unique set of norms and values. This has a direct impact on how mental health, and mental illness, is viewed and conceptualized. Mental health and specifically mental illness is interpreted differently depending on one’s culture, their socialization and upbringing as well as the beliefs of society as a whole.

It is important to remember that mental health is not necessarily a fixed state, but can and does fluctuate as a result of a variety of reasons and is both influenced by, and influences a multitude of factors. As individuals, we are born with a specific genetic makeup that may put us at risk (genetic predisposition) to develop certain conditions/illnesses. In addition to genetic influences, there are also environmental, societal and cultural factors that impact ones mental health.

Having said this, it is then understandable that mental health, and so mental illness, is not attributable to one single cause, and therefore we need to be looking at our lives, and in particular our mental health in a holistic way. Some refer to the mind-body-soul connection, but whatever fits with your frame of reference, it is important to realise that we are holistic beings that function optimally if we have balance.

As an exercise – have a look at all the areas of your life (spiritual, family, social, work, physical etc.) and try determine if there are some areas that are significantly neglected. Start working towards formulating a plan to try gain some balance in your life, and in essence to lower the risk of developing some form of illness, whether it be physical or psychological. An example is the this pie chart depicting the time and energy that is invested in the different areas of one’s life.
Nikki Menta lHealth Chart

It is important to remember that we are not mere observers or participants in our lives, but that we are active partakers and we have the capacity to make changes where needed. Finding balance is not always easy, and at times certain areas in your life may need to take precedence, for example during month end, or preparing for a marathon, or having a baby. Overall, however, it is important to make the necessary decisions and choices that lead towards health and balance.