Mental health and the festive season: accessing care for yourself and your loved ones

“The festive season brings a welcome break for many – a chance to take a breather, relax and spend time with loved ones; but for others, this time of year can feel less than joyous,” says Megan Hosking, psychiatric intake clinician at Akeso mental health facilities. “Some people find the holiday period a lonely, stressful and anxious time.

“Given the tumultuous year we have all had, it is unfortunately likely that increased numbers of South Africans may be struggling with their mental health at this time. Those feeling exhausted, experiencing anxiety, uncertainty, or symptoms of depression may find the thought of the festive season daunting rather than something they are looking forward to,” adds Hosking.

“Many people are uncertain of what to do when they experience such feelings. Know that if you are struggling with your mental health, you can get support and professional assistance through organisations such as Akeso, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group [SADAG] and others.”

Hosking provided the following practical tips for dealing with the festive season:

    Take some time to unwind, even if you will not be on leave. Make use of the weekends to get some fresh air, do something you enjoy, and ‘switch off’ from your weekly challenges. Focus on your self-care including eating well and getting proper sleep.
    Spend time with your loved ones. This could be in-person or virtually but making contact with those close to you is important for support and helps one to remain connected.
    Consider giving back. If you are in a position to do so, give back to others in some way, no matter whether it is through your time or financially. Many people find great fulfilment and positivity in helping others.
    Be mindful of the news and social media you engage with. If it is getting you down, work on reducing your screen-time and your engagement with such media. If you feel you have to keep up to date on news, consider doing so once a day for a short time only.
    Access a support system. There are many support groups, as well as online support systems, where you can share your experiences with a community that understands.
    Try to focus on the positive. If you have had a challenging year, it can be easy to fall into a negative mindset, but highlighting the good things in your life, large or small, can do wonders for your mental well-being.
    Seek professional help if you need to.

“If you are spending time with loved ones for the first time in a while, you may also notice changes in their mood and mental well-being. Therefore, this may be a good time to provide them with care and support while sharing your own struggles and victories as appropriate. Have an open and honest conversation about how you are doing, and ask how they are doing,” says Hosking.

“Many people find they have trouble expressing their anxieties and concerns to others, as they don’t want to be a burden to them and appear as if they are not coping. They therefore try to deal with all of their burdens on their own. However, it can be a great help to simply have the ear of a friend or to speak with a counsellor. You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed at this time, it is nothing to feel ashamed of, so make sure to reach out to a loved one, friend or, if necessary, for professional help if you are concerned about your mental well-being at this time.”

Dr Lerato Motshudi, head: clinical programmes, research and development at Akeso, says that Akeso mental health facilities will remain open during the festive season for outpatient consultations and admissions if needed. Should you require hospital admission, your therapist and doctor will evaluate you and support you through this.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that mental healthcare is a prescribed minimum benefit [PMB] for most medical schemes, giving you up to 21 days of inpatient care if you require it. In Akeso facilities, this would give you access to therapeutic groups and activities, as well as psychiatrist and psychologist consultations,” notes Dr Motshudi.

“If you need information about mental health services, accessing care, information about mental health issues, or are in an emotional crisis, Akeso is here to help. You can contact us on [email protected]; visit www.akeso.co.za; or book psychologist consultations via www.copetherapy.co.za and psychiatrist consultations through Netcare appointmed™, online at www.netcareappointmed.co.za or by calling 0861 555 565, The COPE Therapy site also contains many useful blog posts on various issues and tips relating to mental health.”

In the event of a psychological crisis, emergency support is available on 0861 435 787, 24 hours a day.