How to help someone with a mental disorder or illness

Mental health problems are those conditions that are related to one’s thinking, emotions and behaviour. These are very serious issues as they impact our ability to cope and deal with our daily lives. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group estimates that about 17 million South Africans suffer from some form of mental health affliction. Bloom, along with Momentum Health4Me, explain how you can help someone with a mental health problem.

List of common mental health illnesses and disorders

There are more than 200 different types of mental disorders and mental health conditions, but some of the most common include:

1. Depression. There are different categories of depression, but it is usually characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, which can vary in severity and even cause suicidal thoughts or behaviour.

2. Anxiety. This is characterised by persistent feelings of fear or worry, which can inhibit a person’s daily living. Anxiety disorders can cause phobias, panic attacks, stress and obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

3. Bipolar disorder. This mental illness is characterised by extreme shifts in mood, with the afflicted person alternating between manic episodes and extreme depression.

4. Eating disorders. These include conditions like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which is associated with an unhealthy obsession and distorted view about food, body weight, and shape. Symptoms can include self-inflicted starvation or purging behaviour.

5. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is a condition that may develop following a traumatic event or episode in a person’s life, like experiencing a sexual assault, losing a loved one or facing a natural disaster.

6. Schizophrenia. This is a psychotic disorder where the afflicted person suffers from a distorted perception of reality and may experience hallucinations, delusions, impaired thinking or memory.

How do you know if someone may be suffering from a mental disorder?

There are a number of warning signs you can look out for if you suspect that someone close to you may be suffering from mental health issues. Pay attention to a person’s behaviour and attitude. If you’ve noticed a marked change in their behaviour or thought patterns, then consider whether they’re also suffering from any of these common mental health symptoms:

  • Increased irritability or anger outbursts
  • Prolonged feelings of sadness
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Sleep disturbances, like insomnia
  • Irrational fear or worry
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Thought problems related to reasoning, memory or logic
  • Inability to function adequately, be it socially, professionally or personally
  • Peculiar behaviour, like claiming to hear voices
  • Self-harm behaviour
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviour
  • Physical ailments, like unexplained headaches or stomach cramps
  • Substance abuse

Offering help and support to those with mental health issues

Good mental health is just as important as physical health, which is why it’s important to try to help those who may be suffering from a mental illness or disorder. The best way to assist someone who is suffering from poor mental health is by encouraging a conversation about the condition. Previously, those who were suffering from mental health issues were stigmatised by society, which resulted in shame and non-disclosure about their condition. Fortunately, there is a lot more transparency and understanding about mental health problems now so you can help by offering your support in a non-judgemental manner. Some of the ways you might provide relief or comfort are by:

  • Allowing them to tell you how they feel. Unburdening oneself can be very therapeutic for those who are suffering from internal emotional conflict.
  • Encouraging them to seek help by joining a support group, undergoing counselling or by visiting a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist.
  • Promote health and well-being. Encourage them to get enough sleep, follow a healthy diet or take up some form of exercise, as this can have a positive effect on one’s mental state

How to handle a mental health crisis

You may find yourself in a position of having to manage a mental health crisis. This could involve a suicide threat or a psychotic breakdown. If the person has attempted suicide or any form of self-harm, you need to administer first-aid immediately and contact emergency services. Otherwise, Momentum Health4Me advises taking the following steps in order to help your loved one and keep yourself safe during the process:

  1. Remain calm and avoid a confrontation
  2. Listen to them and remain non-judgemental
  3. Consider their needs at that moment
  4. Ask them if there is someone who you can contact on their behalf
  5. Encourage them to seek help, and help them do so if necessary
  6. Call a mental health line for assistance and advice

Family support services for mental illness

There are various support services and groups available for those who are affected by a family member, friend or colleague who is suffering from poor mental health. Momentum Health4Me suggests finding a support network to help you in this journey of recovery or management, by connecting with those who can offer assistance, guidance and resources:

1. South African Depression and Anxiety Group

Offers information and downloadable resources.

Contact: 011-7831474 |

2. Lifeline

National counselling hotline.

Contact: 011-7281331 |

3. Suicide Crisis Line

Contact: 0800 55 44 33

4. South African Suicide Crisis Helpline

Contact: 0800 21 22 23

5. Compassionate Friends

Offering support for grieving parents, friends and siblings.

Contact: 44066322

6. The South African Schizophrenia & Bipolar Disorders Alliance

Offering support for those carers with loved ones diagnosed with the disorder.

Momentum Health4Me benefits for mental health illnesses

The Momentum Health4Me Gold health plan offers a specialist benefit under the day to day health insurance cover. Each consultation is limited to a maximum of R1,000 (R2,000 per member, per year). This benefit will allow you to visit a mental health care specialist, like a psychiatrist, should you require specialised care. In order to visit one of these specialist Health4Me doctors, you must first obtain pre-authorisation by getting a referral from your GP.

Bloom and Momentum Health4Me recognise the need for mental health services and so have provided members with access to confidential, multilingual counselling support services on a toll-free number. Adults can receive support for personal or work-related issues that are causing mental health issues, while children and teenagers can receive counselling that covers preventive and proactive interventions for emotional problems faced by this particular age group. There is also a specialised trauma and critical incident counselling service that is extended to those members who have suffered a traumatic incident, like a violent assault or the loss of a loved one. Members are encouraged to download the Momentum Wellness App to improve their mental health.

Health insurance with comprehensive cover

Good mental health is now recognised as being an essential component of quality living. There is also a lot more awareness and support for those suffering from mental illnesses or disorders. Offer your support to those who are experiencing poor mental health by following the guidelines set out by Bloom and Momentum Health4Me, or contact a support group for advice. Get affordable and comprehensive medical insurance by contacting our office to set up an appointment with a trained consultant.

Check out our blog:
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