What is Mental Health?

Mental health is not merely about the absence of mental illness, but rather the presence of mental health and well-being.

Mental health is about how you feel about yourself, realising your own potential, how you relate to others and how you deal with the opportunities, difficulties and challenges of everyday life.

How Can I Maintain My Mental Health Well-being?

The National Health System (NHS) provides the following tips for maintaining health and well-being:


  • Connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.

  • Be active. You don't have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Find the activity that you enjoy, and make it a part of your life.

  • Keep learning. Learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that language course, start learning to play a musical instrument or figure out how to fix your bike?

  • Give to others. Even the smallest act can count, whether it's a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental well-being and help you build new social networks.

  • Take notice. Be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness "mindfulness", and it can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.


What is Mental Illness?

A mental illness is a treatable condition of the brain, mind and emotions that may affect the way a person thinks, feels or behaves.

Mental disorder includes a broad range of problems with different symptoms. However, these are generally characterised by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others. Examples of these are: schizophrenia, depression, mental retardation and disorders due to drug abuse. Most of these disorders can be successfully treated.

Issues Facing People with Mental Illness

The main issues facing people with mental illness is discrimination and stigma due to the general lack of insight into mental health-related issues. 

Apart from the difficulties arising directly from their mental illness, people who live with mental illnesses face a wide variety of other issues. These include the following:

  • Difficulties in obtaining the right diagnosis and treatment, as these illnesses are poorly recognised and resources for mental healthcare have been historically underfunded.

  • Difficulties in being accepted in society due to stigmatisation of mental illness.

  • Difficulties in finding work due either to the symptoms of the illness which may make it difficult to work, or due to negative and unfounded perceptions of people who live with mental illnes.

  • Difficulties in finding accommodation.

  • Difficulties in relating to others who may not understand how the illness affects them.

  • Difficulties in having these various issues addressed due to the fundamentally disempowering nature of society's response to people living with mental illness.

Despite all of this, most people who experience mental illness will, if given the right support, be able to recover sufficiently to be able to live, work, learn and participate fully in their communities.

Some signs of mental illness

Because there are a huge number and variety of metal illnesses, the signs of these illnesses may present itself in a variety of ways. Some of the more common symptoms which may lead one to consider a mental illness include:


  • Problems sleeping at night.

  • Feeling as if you have lost interest in your usual activities.

  • Feeling sad or unhappy for extended periods and being unable to recover on your own.

  • Feeling scared or frightened for an extended period without a reasonable explanation for this.

  • Noticing that you are drinking too much alcohol, using drugs recently or having somebody suggest this.

  • Spending excessive amounts of money or time on alcohol or drugs.

In order to qualify for a diagnosis of a mental disorder the symptoms should be severe enough to affect one's ability to function in the workplace/school, in society or at home.

When you are suffering from a mental illness, it is often difficult to recognise this oneself. This is something which should be considered in anyone who shows any of the symptoms indicated above, as well as these:


  • Having marital, sexual or relationship problems.

  • Suspects supernatural causes for their complaints.

  • Has suffered from family violence, any form of abuse or of emotional or severe physical trauma.

  • Has life problems such as unemployment or the death of a close friend or relative.

  • Is suffering from a chronic and severe physical illness, and particularly if the diagnosis is one that is associated with stigma.

  • Has many physical complaints (especially more than three) that do not fit with any recognised pattern of physical illness.

  • Has a physical complaints that fail to respond to the appropriate treatment.

  • Has family members with mental illness.

Symptoms of Mental Illness in Adults:


  • Confused thinking.

  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability.

  • Extremely high and low moods.

  • Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety.

  • Social withdrawal.

  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits.

  • Strong feelings of anger.

  • Delusions or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there).

  • Increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities.

  • Thoughts of suicide.

  • Denial of obvious problems.

  • Many unexplained physical problems.

  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol.

Symptoms of Mental Illness in Older Children and Pre-teens:


  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol.

  • Changes in school performance, falling grades.

  • Inability to cope with daily problems and activities.

  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits.

  • Excessive complaints of physical problems.

  • Defying authority, skipping school, stealing, or damaging property.

  • Intense fear of gaining weight.

  • Long-lasting negative mood, often along with poor appetite and thoughts of death.

  • Frequent outbursts of anger.

Symptoms of Mental Illness in Younger Children:


  • Changes in school performance.

  • Poor grades despite strong efforts.

  • Excessive worry or anxiety.

  • Hyperactivity.

  • Persistent nightmares.

  • Persistent disobedience and/or aggressive behavior.

  • Frequent temper tantrums.

What Help is There for People with Mental Health Problems?

Help is available from a wide variety of professionals, including counsellors, nursing practitioners, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists, general practitioners and psychiatrists.

This may involve a range of treatments including occupational and behaviour interventions, your family, counselling and other "talking therapies" and medications, to name but a few.

Some options on where to get help

Provincial services for children are available at the following units:

  • The Red Cross Child and Family Unit, offers an out-patient service for children with mental health difficulties. There's also a specialist in-patient service for children under 12. For more information call 021 685 4103.

  • Tygerberg Child and Family Unit offers in- and out-patient care for children and adolescents. Call 021 938 4573 for more information.

  • Lentegeur Child and Family Unit has an in- and out-patient service for children and adolescents. Call 021 370 1111.

Cape Mental Health

Cape Mental Health offers help in any of the following circumstances, with a range of counselling, rehabilitation, care and training services. Their work is divided into three main areas:

  • Intellectual Disability – people who have damage to the brain, because of a birth defect (e.g. Down Syndrome) or after an injury or accident (e.g. near fatal drowning).

  • Psychiatric Disability - people affected by a psychiatric or mental illness (e.g. Schizophrenia).

  • Mental Health - our mental wellness, which can be affected by stress, anxiety, grief, etc. People who are unable to deal with pressures like these may become depressed or even suicidal.


Address: 22 Ivy Street, Observatory
Tel: 021 447 9040
Fax: 021 448 8475
Email: info@cmh.org
Website: http://www.capementalhealth.co.za/

South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG):

If you need a referral to a psychologist, psychiatrist or support group, you can call The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 and speak to a trained counsellor who can assist you further. 

Offices are open 7 days a week from 8am – 8pm.

Fax number: 011 234 8182
Substance Abuse line: 0800 12 13 14 is available 24hrs.
Email: Zane on zane@sadag.org 
Website: http://www.sadag.org/