• Reading Level 5

Mental Health Journalist of the Year Aged 14-18: Runner Up

Beeline Reader (learn more) uses subtle colour gradients to help you read more quickly and efficiently.

The AI Revolution in Healthcare

Sarah Kate, Reddam House Umhlanga, South Africa

Mental health is a topic about which I feel passionately. Not only is it becoming more and more openly discussed, but it is also becoming more prominent in a large majority of people, especially teenagers. Studies show 77% of students suffer from some form of mental health issue. In addition, 24% of all mental health issues develop between the ages of 14 and 24.

I was around 15 years old when I first began struggling with my mental health: however, I did not realise until much later the impact this would have on my life. Although mental health has become more openly discussed, the stigmas still exist in the realm in which we have these conversations.

Anxiety is a topic that resonates with me. This is a term thrown loosely around and it is increasingly more difficult to differentiate between just healthy stress and anxiety disorder. I hope to make all those girls and boys out there just like me feel seen. I didn’t quite understand the extent to which anxiety can take over one’s life as well as the multiple ways in which it can present itself.

I spoke to a professional who explained to me like this: a normal person has nerved passages running through their brain, and in between those passages is fluid that electrical impulses must jump over to get to the next nerve ending. Hormones such as serotonin are travelling within these nerve passages and serve as “boats” to take the electrical impulses to the next nerve ending. When you have anxiety those little nerves with suction endings work in overdrive which, in a way, sucks up all the serotonin, making it hard to function and leading to anxiety.

This explained to me the way I was feeling was not my fault but, actually, a chemical imbalance that was occurring inside of me.

Anxiety started small for me: it was things like a stressful week or a maths exam that would make me feel overwhelmed, which is normal. However, I started to realised these feelings weren’t manageable and manifested into other areas of my life. I would eventually progress to things such as panic attacks and a paralysing feeling would ensue. I began to realise I needed help to cope with the increasing anxiety I was facing.

I began to find healthy ways to deal with this anxiety that wasn’t the traditional route of medication as that is a daunting decision to make at only 15. I no longer wanted to be in constant fight or flight mode and I wanted to thrive instead of just survive.

I would like to share some of those coping mechanisms. Firstly, Insight Timer is a free app that I use when I am starting to feel that overwhelming sense of stress. This meditation app allows you to slow down your heart rate and distract your brain from outside worries through guided meditations. Secondly, I use the cold hand rule: if you find yourself in a situation where you are in the midst of a panic attack, put your hands down on a flat cold surface such as a desk, floor or wall and “transfer all of that energy” back into the wall while breathing in and out, almost imagining a wave going in and out of the beach. Thirdly, the 10 fingers rule: firmly press each of your fingers with your thumb while counting down from 10. This puts your mind at ease and forces you to concentrate on something beside your feelings.

There are multiple organisations in South Africa that can assist, such as The South African Depression and Anxiety Group. This is an organisation that focuses on these specific illnesses. This group offers support as well as resources to help overcome the way you are feeling. Secondly, the South African Federation for Mental Health has resources that one can access. Both of these options are online, making it accessible to everyone. Facebook groups are also a helpful resource available as you are able to speak to like-minded people who struggle with the same things. There are many South African based Facebook groups that can create a safe spaced for you to discuss your feelings with someone who understands.

I want each and every person out there who’s struggling with this to know that you are not along and you can get help in so many ways. You won’t have to live in fight or flight forever.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email