Mental Health 101 – Interview with a Clinical Psychologist
Our mental health has probably been placed on the back burner lately – with everything we are dealing with right now. We are more worried about our physical health, and being able to keep some sort of normalcy. Work troubles, financial issues, missing your family, and plain old cabin fever – all of it, has the ability to have crippling effects on the mind. People who have never experienced depression, may experience it now. The same goes for anxiety and stress.
Mopani Pharmacy is all about educating and bringing information to our customers, so we consulted a local clinical psychologist, Nicola Munro, on the issue at hand.
Are you anxious or stressed?
Nicola explained that the terms “anxiety” and “stress” are often used interchangeably and there is a degree of overlap between the two, however, their strict definitions are different. Both are fight or flight responses, which result in an increased heart rate and breathing rate, digestive disturbances and hyper-arousal.
“Anxiety and stress are both the degree to which our internal or external demands, exceed our internal or external resources”, she continued.
“When we talk about stress, we usually refer to a current situation a person is experiencing, for example; marital conflict, financial problems, work issues – that is causing a stress response. Therefore, the demands are probably observable.”
“In the case of anxiety, this is a feeling we experience which is not always related to a recognised threat that is observable – although it can be.”
It becomes more about the perception of demands exceeding resources. “When one is anxious it is common to have thoughts such as: “I can’t cope” “something bad is going to happen” or “I’m going to fail” even if there is no outward evidence”, Nicola explained, continuing, “The experience of anxiety exists along a continuum. If this feeling becomes extreme and interferes with one’s ability to function socially or occupationally, then this is called an Anxiety Disorder.”
How common is something like depression?
“Although I don’t have exact statistics, Health24 has claimed in 2019 that a study has shown about 10% of our population having depression. Unfortunately, only about 8% of those diagnosed will seek professional help.
It also stated that there are about 23 known suicides in South Africa every day, and that 10 times that amount will attempt suicide, albeit, unsuccessfully.”
How do we cope with stress that contributes to poor mental health?
“There are various ways to cope with stress. If we go back to the definition of stress, we need to either decrease demands, increase resources, or both” said Nicola.
Demands can be anything which places pressure on us, such as our workload, household tasks, grocery shopping, doing homework or home schooling with children, and even worrying about everything we still need to do.
“It is not always easy to diminish these demands but the first step is to recognise what we are able to change and set boundaries, to learn to say “no” where possible and to ask for help” Nicola advised.
Secondly, to diminish stress we can increase our resources or protective factors. Protective factors buffer us from the effects of stress.
“The three core and universal protective factors are sleep, healthy nutrition and exercise. These are things that we all need to make sure we are doing to protect ourselves from stress. Other forms of resources or protective factors are unique to the individual and may include social support such as talking to a friend, practical support, spending time outdoors, connecting spiritually, being creative, going for a massage and doing whatever replenishes or fills us up”, Nicola concluded.
“Whole foods are better than processed foods as the latter contributes to inflammation in the body and in the brain. Whole foods include foods that are unprocessed and unrefined”, Nicola recommended.
Nutritional, mineral or vitamin deficiencies such as Iron, Vitamin D, Potassium and many others, can contribute significantly to the presentation of psychological disorders including depression and anxiety.
“It is better to consult a medical doctor who practices functional medicine in order to rule out any of these deficiencies or identify them before random supplementation takes place. Taking probiotics and Omega 3 regularly is known to be protective for one’s mental health”, she concluded.
“Meditate!” they say…
The concept sounds ridiculous. Think of nothing. How, pray tell?
“There are various ways in which one can meditate. The method I prefer is the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) approach of mindfulness meditation. This is not about emptying the mind but rather learning to select a focus for our attention and on observing our own thought processes”, Nicola explained.
“The process may begin with deep breathing, sitting quietly or going for an outdoor walk and being intentional about where we want our minds to be; on nature, our own breathing or what we are grateful for. Inevitably, our minds will drift elsewhere; possibly to our worries, our plans for the day or the past. When we notice our mind has wandered off, we guide it back to where we want it to be”, she continued.
“This does not mean the process was a failure, but it is the exercise itself of being self-aware, noticing that our thoughts are merely thoughts, and that we can decide what we give our attention to. The more practice we get with noticing and pulling our attention back to where we want it to be, the more we will build our mental muscle of self-awareness and ultimately, resilience”, she concluded.
Where do I go if I need help but I can’t afford mental health care?
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has a very useful website which provides numerous free resources including online support groups and helplines for various conditions and needs.
“There is also a psychology department at Rob Ferreira Hospital which provides psychotherapy to patients.”
When should I see you?
Clinical psychologists typically treat individuals with depression, mood disorders, anxiety, trauma, loss, relationship difficulties, stress, anger difficulties, adjustment difficulties and significant life changes.
“However, anyone who recognises something they want and need to change and would like to get closer to reaching their potential would benefit. The process of therapy is aimed at assisting an individual with navigating the self through the process of healing, re-empowerment and reconnection”, she explained.
I’m on your couch. Now what?
Clinical Psychologists may have different approaches. Some may use a more direct approach while others have a more open-ended approach.
“It is important to remember that you have a voice within the therapeutic relationship and need to make your needs and goals known from the beginning. It is perfectly acceptable to call two or three psychologists before you make a final decision and enquire about their approach in order to see if it would fit with your needs, personality and goals.”
What to expect
- Sessions are usually once a week for approximately 1 hour.
- Usually the first session entails telling your story.
- Several questions may be asked in order to identify a patient’s needs, personality and symptoms and contributing factors.
- Sessions usually entail the collaboration between the patient and therapist where insight to your mental health is built.
- In this process a clear understanding of the specific factors or unmet needs contributing the patient’s symptoms are unearthed and from these insights clear goals are developed to assist the client toward empowerment and reconnection and what needs to change in their lives.
Life as we know it may continue to expect a bit more from us, than what our resources may handle, but there is hope. One can always benefit from healthier living, practicing healthy coping mechanisms and asking for help when you need it.
To book an consultation with Nicola, you can book an appointment with her on 072 268 3743. You can find her practice on 31 Melkweg Road, Nelspruit.
We have a wide range of supplements available at Mopani Pharmacy, to support your mental health. If you need help choosing the correct product for you, have a chat with our pharmacists or knowledgeable sales staff.