SA has been fighting more than just the covid pandemic for the past few years. The country is trying to stem the rising tide of mental health and substance abuse issues. New research finds that more than a quarter of South Africans suffer from possible depression and anxiety — higher than other countries, including the United States, Australia and Brazil — but the majority do not receive help or treatment.
Many turn to familiar crutches like cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana, or more illicit drugs like methamphetamines, opium, and cocaine. Substance abuse in Africa has been steadily and continuously increasing, and the problem has been intensified by the uncertainty, unrest, and ongoing impact of the pandemic. Once again SA is outperforming its global peers: drug use prevalence from South Africa is estimated at 13.3% for at least one substance – more than double the global average of 5%.
Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance, with rates of binge drinking among the highest in the world. Tobacco and cannabis follow as the second and third most used substances, respectively. Substance abuse does not happen in a vacuum – it has been found to go hand in hand with mental health conditions.
A study by the University of Cape Town showed that patients with disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are more likely to abuse drugs, but it also found a link between drug use and people with symptoms of anxiety, disorders and high levels of post-traumatic stress.
The study found that people with mental health conditions use substances, especially alcohol, as a coping mechanism and a form of self-medication. However, while having a few drinks or smoking some marijuana may initially seem to help with feelings of uncertainty or stress about the future or to numb memories of traumatic events, it can quickly become a habit people can’t do without, which begins to affect daily life. and behaviour.
There are warning signs people can look out for. sleep disorders such as insomnia, which interfere with the quantity and quality of sleep and affect physical and mental functioning during the day; Impulsivity or increased aggressiveness and other addictive patterns, such as shopping, gambling, caffeine, or nicotine. It is also important to consider family history and recent traumatic events that may have a ripple effect on substance use.
It’s never too early to seek help and talk to a health professional to deal with grief, trauma, anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. The good news is that there are resources—including professionals, software, platforms, and apps—that provide access to a support network. Many companies today have programs and resources in place for the health and well-being of their employees.
Evidence suggests that these types of programs are very effective. We see a significant difference where employers give employees access to wellness resources and where they commit to putting people first in the workplace.
Access to education programs with information about substance abuse and mental health conditions can help people recognize symptoms and signs of trauma and addiction. More access to resources and support networks such as call centers and apps – such as Hello Doctor – with counselors and trained professionals, can help people in the short, medium and long term by teaching them resilience exercises and prevention strategies to manage their mental health and well-being.
Communication, support structures, and self-care are key to mental health management and substance abuse prevention. They help people know that they are not alone, and that help is available. The health system and its professionals are trained and geared towards supporting people who are suffering. The earlier a person applies for support; The sooner they get the help they may need.
• Brews is the Head of Health Risk Management Strategy at Momentum Health Solutions