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When the mind struggles, the body lets you know

“People do not seek psychological help often – especially not men. What happens instead is that we see the symptoms of depression manifest in bodily symptoms: insomnia, body pain, tense muscles and a rapid heart rate,” says clinical psychologist Aluta Ngantweni.

The process of seeking psychological help is not always well understood. People come to get medical assistance for the physical symptoms they are experiencing in response to what may be an undiagnosed psychological condition. Once those have been treated by a doctor, they don’t come back to deal with whatever mental health challenge was causing the physical symptoms, Ngantweni says.


People also deal with their psychological health issues in different ways. Some try to cope by resorting to alcohol and substance abuse. Others rely on their spirituality or consult with a traditional healer. Many people have suffered overwhelming trauma, and they just need someone to talk to – a cathartic space, says Ngantweni. “I may be the only person who listens to them,” he says, explaining that many people do not have a supportive home life where they have someone to talk to about what they may be feeling.


“Mental health issues are normal. As soon as you find social or professional support, you can deal with them. You shouldn’t just look at the physical aspects of your body – you also need to consider your emotions,” says Ngantweni. In seeking support, he encourages the use of whatever resources are available, such as a trustworthy family member or friend, a religious community or a community clinic. “We need to normalise situations around mental health to reduce the stigma.”

If you are experiencing physical symptoms that you think may be related to depression or anxiety, these may be helpful:

  • The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has great resources and free telephonic counselling. Call the 24-hour free helpline on 0800 456 789 or WhatsApp 076 882 2775 for assistance.
  • Read our article about practical steps to take when you are feeling overwhelmed by the emotions that you’re experiencing.
  • The Bongs Ndima Foundation was founded to address and create awareness around depression and anxiety amongst South African men. WhatsApp 076 690 5884 to get in touch.


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