According to 2018 vs 2019 figures, Fedhealth is seeing an increase in mental health admissions year-on-year. But does this reflect a global trend in terms of more cases of mental illness in our society? Or, is it merely the fact that there is more education around mental illness and less stigma attached to it these days – so more people are recognising their symptoms and signs and seeking help (where they otherwise may not have)?
Due to the complex nature of mental illness, accurate data about how prevalent it is, is difficult to obtain. However, this article from The Guardian states that the presence of mental illness in high income countries has actually flatlined, not increased. This would imply that there is an increase in dialogue about mental illness, rather than an increase of cases.
What does seem to be on the rise globally though, are mood disorders among younger generations. A study published by the American Psychological Association found that these disorders have increased significantly among adolescents and young adults, and the rise of social media may be to blame. A 2018 survey of 11 000 14-year-olds by the Children’s Society in the UK concurred with this trend, finding that a quarter of girls and nearly one in 10 boys surveyed had self-harmed in a single year.
Closer to home, South African statistics support these findings. Principal Officer of Fedhealth Medical Aid, Jeremy Yatt, says that the majority of mental health diagnoses within their scheme are for those under the age of 40 years old. Yatt believes that the increase in admissions for mental health cases are a result of the pitfalls of modern society. “We’re living in the best time there’s ever been for humans to live,” he says. “Access to health, food and education around the world are at an all-time high, but our mental health does not seem to reflect this. Instead, we’re bombarded constantly in the media with negative information, and this becomes our reality”.
Modern life also feels more stressful than previous decades. While technology was meant to make our lives easier, things like smartphones have added to our stress levels, creating an “always on” culture that leaves little time to unwind.
The statistics regarding mental health are concerning: 30% of South Africans will suffer from a mental health condition in their lifetime, and the WHO says that 76 to 85% of people in low and medium-income countries with severe mental disorders receive no treatment at all. “That’s why we offer a Mental Health Programme and Emotional Wellbeing Programme to our members,” says Yatt. The programmes aim to improve quality of life, offer greater rates of care for mental health and lower total healthcare costs in the medium and long term as well.”
Beyond seeking professional help as a first step, Yatt advises that as a society we should be getting involved in activities where we can see the positives, in order to be reminded of all the good in the world. He cites the “#I’mStaying” group as an example of how the sharing of positive stories can create a renewed sense of optimism in a country, and an undercurrent of goodwill.
Ultimately, Yatt agrees that while it’s easy to say that, for example, an increase in Type 2 diabetes globally is directly linked to our more sedentary lifestyles, it’s just not as clear cut with mental illness. There are so many varying causes, and in terms of hard scientific evidence and medical research, we’re only just beginning to decipher the intricacies of the human brain.