How to support an employee, colleague or family member with a mental illness

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During a talk on mental health held at the University of the Free State were from left Burneline Kaars (Head of OD Employee Wellness), Dr Ntswaki Setlaba (Consultant Psychiatrist), Tertia de Bruyn (FHS Project Coordinator), and Arina Engelbrecht (Wellness Specialist) PHOTO: Heidre Malgas

With the month of October being Mental Health month, the University of the Free State (UFS) has embarked on a programme to educate people on how to handle close relatives or friends with a mental illness as well as how one should treat and handle your own mental health.

Dr Ntswaki Setlaba, a psychiatrist, said in one of the mental health talks held by the UFS that support for people with a mental illness is one of the most important aspects that the patient needs at the time. She added that psychiatric disorders do not just impact the mental health care user, but the community and colleagues are often also affected.

“Often the diagnoses of a mental illness is experienced as a loss to both the family and the patient. The loss of that functioning patient can affect different aspects of the family life, including loss of income which has shown to be strenuous on both the family and the patient.

“The family, colleagues and friends should familiarise themselves with all the symptoms. They should also ensure that the environment is as normal as possible. The most important thing the public has to remember is to stay clear of being judgemental. Just because you do not understand the problem does not mean you have the right to judge. Destigmatising mental illness needs to be of top priority,” she added.

There are various symptoms that one needs to consider when dealing with a patient with a mental illness. “The onset of symptoms can be of a violent nature, which may lead to serious injury to the people close to the patient. As a result, a lot of assistance is required from the family members, community and colleagues.

“It is thus important for the parties involved to have basic knowledge of the illness they are dealing with, the symptoms, how to manage it, and what their roles are in the management of such parties,” Setlaba concluded.

Heidre Malgas
heidre@mahareng.co.za