While trauma, divorce and bereavement can send anyone into a downward spiral of depression, there are some surprising, everyday factors that also heighten our risk for mental illness.
Pharma Dynamics, a pharmaceutical firm, is concerned about SA’s high use of antidepressant medication and has launched an education campaign to shed light on the ordinary, often unsuspecting things that could have an impact on the public’s mental well-being.
The growing incidence of depression and anxiety worldwide implies that there are other factors too that make modern-day society more vulnerable to mental illness. It is also known that there is a link between diabetes and depression.
Research shows that spending too much time indoors, being stuck in traffic, heavy social media use, lack of movement and even slouching could all be triggers.
According to research, done by Harvard’s Medical School, staying cooped up indoors is not only bad for our physical health, but mental health too.
These days most of us spend most our days inside denying our bodies of much-needed vitamin D, which may provide some protection against depression.
Exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s production of serotonin (a hormone associated with an elevated mood). By just spending 10 to 15 minutes outside with our arms and legs exposed to the sun (without sunscreen), is enough for our bodies to produce the required amount of vitamin D.
Our indoor lifestyle has led to more than a billion people across the globe being vitamin D deficient. Even in the sunnier parts of the world, such as Australia, more than a third are deficient.
Evidence shows that a lack of vitamin D increases the likelihood of depression by up to 14% and suicide by 50%. So, be sure to make safe sun exposure. Either in the morning or late afternoons a habit.
Life satisfaction and happiness also takes a dip among those who must suffer through long commutes to work and back. A report, by the UK’s National Office of Statistics, showed that people who commute for longer than half an hour to work each way (regardless of the mode of transport) have greater levels of stress and anxiety.
The average South African spends almost three hours a day in traffic, which doesn’t do our mood any good. A suggestion is to speak to your employers about working flexi-hours, or from home if the type of job you do allows for this arrangement. Alternatively, put on your favourite tunes or listen to motivational or interesting podcasts to keep you positive.
Social media is a foe
Heavy social media use (equal to two or more hours a day) has also been associated with poor mental health. Researchers, from Ottawa Public Health, found that those who spend more than two hours a day on social networking sites are more likely to suffer from psychological distress and suicidal thoughts than those who spend less time online.
Based on the latest Global Digital Yearbook, published by We Are Social and Hootsuite, South Africans already spend almost three hours a day trawling Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms. This is about half an hour more than the average global user.
While social media isn’t all bad, it’s important to set boundaries, as too much time on networking sites can have damaging consequences. Commit to not checking social media at meal times and when spending time with family and friends.
Also schedule regular breaks from social media. Studies have shown that week-long breaks from Facebook can lower your stress levels and lead to higher life satisfaction.
Review your social media habits and instead of spending an exhaustive 30 to 45 minutes at a time on social media, rather limit it to five minutes in the morning, afternoon and early evening.
Get up, stand up
Sitting too long also makes us anxious. This is according to a study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, which tracked almost 9 000 women over a 10-year period.
Researchers grouped them based on how much time they spent sitting each day (four or less hours a day or four to seven hours a day, or more than seven hours a day).
It was found that those who were sedentary for more than seven hours a day were 47% more at risk of developing depression than those who sat for four or fewer hours a day. Women who didn’t exercise at all, were 99% at risk of depressive symptoms, compared with those who exercised regularly.
It’s no wonder that depression rates are on the increase when one considers that almost 40% of South African adults (men and women) are inactive based on the latest WHO statistics.
Make a point of including exercise into your daily routine. Find something that you enjoy and stick to it. Exercise has shown to improve mood and forms part of a holistic treatment regime to help prevent the onset of depression and it turn achieve mental health.
Good posture equals good mental health
Surprisingly, bad posture and slouching have also been linked to an increase in depressive symptoms.
San Francisco State University found that those who slouched felt more negative about themselves and had lower energy levels.
The way we sit or stand not only has an emotional effect on ourselves, but also on the way others view and treat us. So, next time, pay special attention to how you sit and take notice of how you feel and how others treat you.
Take care of yourself
It is encouraged to follow a healthy, balanced diet, to get enough sleep, limiting alcohol intake, spend quality time with friends and family, and make time for hobbies and interests, which all contribute to a healthy mental outlook.
In the past decade, depression rates have risen by nearly 20%, making it the leading cause of disability worldwide. More than 300 million people are affected and at its worst, could lead to suicide.
In South Africa, an estimated 20% will experience a depressive disorder at least once in their lifetime.
Do you need help?
If you feel unusually down and depressed and don’t know who to turn to, contact Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counsellors who are on call from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. For additional support, visit www.letstalkmh.co.za