5 of the most challenging mental illnesses and how to manage them

Mental illness affects 1 in 3 South Africans and can be debilitating for a family. Sadly, 75% of these sufferers will not receive adequate treatment.

If you think someone close to you is suffering from a mental illness, it is important to take it seriously. Show them your support by suggesting they get the help of a mental health professional. If you think you may be suffering from a mental disorder, seek help as soon as you can.

Here are 5 of the most challenging mental illnesses, and how to help someone who suffers from them:

1. Anxiety disorder

When runaway emotions start to affect daily functioning, then it may be time to address an anxiety disorder. Reasons for this illness include a history of family mental health problems, environmental factors such as a very traumatic event, an imbalance of hormones or impaired brain functioning, or some other physiological reason including withdrawal symptoms from an addiction.

Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling jumpy or irritable
  • An irrational fear or response to an everyday event
  • Excessive negativity
  • An inability to cope with life in general
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Stomach cramps and nausea
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Hot flashes or chills

Techniques to overcome anxiety disorder include practising stress management, exercise, counselling and support groups, and relaxation techniques including yoga, Pilates and aromatherapy.

2. Bipolar disorder

This mental illness is aptly described: it is a binary state where the person is either elated and ecstatically happy and thus manic, or completely depressed and down in the dumps. The alternating states of manic-depressive can come on quickly or slowly over long periods of time and may even result in suicide.

Symptoms may include:

  1. Intense emotional states of either euphoric fantasies or terror nightmares
  2. Self-injuring behaviour such as cutting or scratching
  3. Impulsive behaviours such as overspending or sexual addiction
  4. Intense self-hatred or skewed self-image

The best way to assist someone is to seek professional help. Medication is usually prescribed for the bipolar sufferer. Hospitalisation and psychotherapy may also be needed.

3. Depression

Depression is the state in which you just cannot seem to shake off an ongoing sadness. Everyone has disappointments and regrets, but when these feelings begin to overwhelm us to the point where we cannot seem to recover, this may indicate depression. There is evidence that depression is linked to self-anger that has turned inward.

Symptoms may include:

  • An ongoing sadness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • A sense of lethargy or fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness

Triggers such as the loss of a loved one and other forms of grief (like losing a baby or not being able to fall pregnant) can often be part of the root cause. Ongoing anxiety can also lead to depression.

Time and understanding are two key ingredients in helping someone. Medication may also be necessary to enhance and elevate mood. Helping a person to get back on track with their lives, and encouraging them to follow their interests and passions are good ways to break the cycle of depression. Seek professional help if possible.


The first thing that often comes to mind when looking at a sufferer of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a wilful and naughty child on Ritalin running around breaking things. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ailment affects mostly young people, with some 9% of young children being diagnosed. However, as many as 4% of adults also have the illness.

Symptoms may include:

  1. Jumping around and becoming easily distracted
  2. Being excessively loud
  3. Becoming bored
  4. An inability to complete tasks
  5. Fidgeting and playing with objects
  6. Being impatient and impulsive

The causes of ADHD may be genetic, while strong evidence suggests that the children of mothers who smoked or abused alcohol while pregnant are more prone to the illness.

Treatments include medications to help calm the mind, as well as psychological interventions where linking is done between the person’s value systems and the tasks that they have to complete.

5. Addiction

When we think of addiction, we often think of alcohol or drugs. However, there is growing evidence that sugar and technology are both highly addictive, as is smoking. While it may seem a bit harsh labelling these addictions “mental illness,” oftentimes there are strong psychological reasons and psychosomatic neuroses attached to overuse of any single thing. Being co-dependent on another human being can also be unhealthy.

For those who smoke, research shows that nicotine addicts get cravings that last as long as 20 minutes, which is why cigarettes are so hard to give up, and why many who stop smoking return to it in later life.

Seek professional help to determine the underlying emotional issues that promote addictive behaviours.

For more information please contact:
Dr MJ Ndhlovu Clinical & Consulting Psychologist
PhD (Cons Psy) UNISA, Msoc. Sc (Clin Psy) (UNW)
+27 (0) 11 923 7785
Info@lenmed.co.za or mjndhlovu@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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7 tips for a healthy work life

Do you feel stressed at work all the time? Assuming you work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for an average of 22 days per month, between the ages of 20 and 65, and with 20 days’ leave per year, you will, in a normal lifespan, spend about 90,000 hours working – that’s 10 solid years at work (24/7/365), which excludes time getting to and from your job.

How does one have a successful career without sacrificing personal time and family? The concept of a work-life balance is defined as proper prioritising between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development).

The first step in obtaining the optimal work-life balance is by achieving good health because if we are healthy, we feel better about ourselves and have more energy to manage our lives. Since most of our time is spent at work it’s a good place to maintain good health.

Here are 7 tips to keep healthy during your working day:

1. Start with a good breakfast

Even for manual labour, your brain is probably the organ you will most use on the job. It burns about 300 calories, or 20%, of your total intake per day – and it gets that energy from glucose. So, if you skip breakfast you’re headed for a binge of biscuits and tea by 10 am, which will spike your blood sugar and you will eventually gain weight. If you’re pressed for time, most bosses will have no problem if you eat some fruit and yoghurt at your desk at 8 am whilst you check emails.

2. Follow that up with a good lunch

The law mandates break times during working hours, so don’t be a martyr and work through your break. Everyone needs a time out. Have a salad or a healthy sandwich, and if you can, get some fresh air on your face.

3. Drink lots of water

Our bodies are made up of 70% water, so there’s a reason we need it. Tea and coffee are stimulants, so make sure to offset heavy beverage drinking with lots of water.

4. Use the stairs

It may be challenging if you’re on the 49th floor of the Carlton, or if you work in a single-storey office park, but the point is this: get some exercise. It’s a great stress reliever from work pressures. Park the car far from the entrance and take the back exit when you leave. If your company offers gym facilities, grab them, or start a running club with your work friends.

5. Get the work done

Nothing stresses you out – and annoys the boss – more than not sticking to your deadlines and meeting your outputs for the tasks you have been set. Politely tell chatty co-workers that you need to knuckle down and do your job. When you’ve cleared it off your plate, the psychological release is enormous, and the boss will be impressed if it’s good work delivered on time.

6. De-clutter your desk and your computer

Having too many windows open on your PC and scratching around for your pen under a mountain of paperwork, slows you down and clouds the mind, and this just leads to more stress. For clarity and efficient use of your mind space, keep your desk neat. When it dissolves into chaos again, take five minutes and re-organise it. Make this a habit.

7. Get some sleep

It may be that your best mate has their birthday party one night during the week, or you had to pull an all-nighter for your job. Life happens. Make sure that you get enough sleep the next night then, and don’t make all-night partying, TV, phone surfing or work a habit. Adults should be getting at least 6 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night in order to recharge properly for the next day.

If you’re battling with work balance, seek the help of a medical professional as soon as you can, and try not to let stress and unhealthy living get the better of you.

For more information please contact:
Lana Pitt Occupational Therapist
BSC OT (Wits)
Daxina Private Hospital
+27 87 087 0644

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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The risks of smoking and how to quit

Did you know? Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than seven million deaths per year, and on average, non-smokers live at least 10 years longer than smokers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) deemed 31 May every year World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from consuming tobacco in any form around the world. Every year there is a theme to promote awareness around the damages tobacco causes to our health. In 2019 the WNTD theme is Tobacco and lung health.

While the South African population as a whole has become less tolerant of smoking because of stringent laws dictating where smokers are allowed to smoke and where not, the statistics regarding tobacco-related deaths are still quite frightening. According to the Tobacco Atlas, more than 42,100 South Africans are killed by tobacco-related disease every year.

So why don’t smokers simply give up? Well, it isn’t that easy because tobacco is laced with the chemical called nicotine which is highly addictive. Consuming nicotine by smoking cigarettes or vaping releases the “feel good” chemical dopamine in our brains. Unfortunately, it also teaches the brain to crave the nicotine over and over again, thereby causing an addiction to cigarettes.

The problem is that tobacco smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals including at least 70 which can cause cancer and are referred to as carcinogens. The most common diseases caused by tobacco use are:

  • Lung cancer
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Asthma
  • Reproductive issues
  • Diabetes
  • Blindness by cataracts
  • Various cancers, including Colon, Cervix, Liver, Stomach and Pancreatic Cancer

These alone should be motivation to give up smoking. Plus, the benefits of quitting are endless.

First and foremost, find a good programme that will work for you. When you are doing your research, make sure the programme addresses both the short-term challenge of stopping smoking and the long-term challenge of preventing a relapse.

Before quitting, it might be a good idea to speak to your doctor about the various programmes and what type of support you require. If you have concerns about gaining weight or having withdrawal symptoms, your doctor will be able to give you good advice and remind you that it is better to gain a little weight which you can easily lose than to continue smoking and risk getting heart disease or cancer.

As a matter of fact, the benefits of giving up are almost instant. As soon as a smoker quits smoking this is how the body starts to recover:

1 hour later - The heart rate drops and returns to normal. Circulation improves and blood pressure is reduced.

12 hours later - Carbon monoxide levels return to normal and oxygen levels increase. This means blood pressure drops further and decreases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

1 week later - Smell and taste returns as nerve endings begin to heal.

1 month later - Lung function improves and exercising becomes much easier to do. If you have developed a smoker’s cough, it may disappear.

9 months later - The lungs significantly heal themselves. You will stop getting lung infections such as bronchitis.

1 year later - The risk of getting coronary heart disease decreases by half. This risk will continue to drop after one year without smoking.

5 years later - The arteries and blood vessels to begin to widen again which means the blood is much less likely to clot and cause a stroke.

10 years later - The chance of getting lung cancer is roughly decreased by half compared with someone who carries on smoking. Also, the risk of developing mouth, throat or pancreatic cancer significantly decreases.

15 years later - The chance of getting coronary heart disease or pancreatic cancer is the same as that of a non-smoker.

20 years - The risk of death from smoking-related causes, including lung disease and cancer, decreases to that of a person who has never smoked before.

No matter how you choose to give up smoking, it’s important to be good to yourself and your body. Don’t eat unhealthy comfort foods to replace the oral gratification and deal with the stress of giving up. Try these 5 simple tricks to help support you while you’re on a good quitting programme:

  1. Take walks - As soon as you feel the urge, go for a brisk walk to clear your head and release dopamine in a healthy way.
  2. Drink lots of water - Smoking dehydrates the body and water rehydrates it; plus drinking water gives your mouth something to do instead of smoking a cigarette.
  3. Have healthy snacks on the ready - When you quit smoking you will need to replace the oral gratification from cigarettes. Don’t fixate orally on bad foods by ensuring that healthy foods are available to you at all times.
  4. Eat a variety of healthy meals - Make it interesting for your brain to register various tastes and textures of food. This way you will replace feelings of boredom after quitting, for feelings of excitement about eating good food.
  5. Pamper yourself - Give yourself a pat on the back for giving up smoking and treat yourself using the cash you have saved from expensive cigarettes.

Quit the bad habit of smoking before it’s too late and enjoy the benefits from day one.

For more information please contact:
Dr AJ Mahmood (Surgeon)
FCS (SA), H Dip Surg (SA), MB BS Chittagon,
Daxina Private Hospital,
+27 (0) 87 087 0644
info@lenmed.co.za or mahmoodaj@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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7 Ways to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy

Our kidneys belong to what we call our 'major' organs, as they perform work in our body that keeps us alive. We can live without a gall bladder, but we cannot survive without a liver, heart, lungs or kidneys. This is why it's so vitally important that we look after our kidneys, not only to prevent kidney disease but also to make sure they are always in good working order. So, let's have a look at what our kidneys do for us, what happens when they can't do these things anymore, and how to look after them.

What do our kidneys do for us?

The main job of our kidneys is to work together with our liver to process and remove toxins from our blood. In this case, 'toxins' aren't necessarily poisons. The term means anything that would be harmful to us if they stayed in our systems. So, it includes everything from certain ingredients in our food (like small traces of mercury in fish) to animal fat and alcohol. As blood flows through our kidneys, they remove these materials from the blood, thus ensuring that these don't enter any further into our bodies.

The kidneys also do a lot more for us. They help to control our blood pressure by regulating the amount of salt in our bloodstream and removing any harmful extra salts and minerals and help produce red blood cells. This is very important for overall body health, and particularly to keep your bones healthy. Our kidneys turn all these materials into a waste product that we eliminate, which we call urine.

Because they play all these roles, our kidneys have to be very strong. Problems develop when they aren't healthy enough to successfully process harmful materials. When this happens, our entire bodies begin to break down which could be fatal. This is why people who have severe kidney disease have to have regular 'dialysis', where their blood is routed through a machine that 'cleans' it in the same way that their kidneys would before it is pumped back into their bodies.

Where are your kidneys?

You'll find your kidneys, one on either side of your body, just below your rib cage towards the back of your abdomen. They are deep inside your body, to protect them from external damage because they are so important in keeping you alive. Each is about the size of an adult's fist.

What happens with kidney disease?

Kidneys can take such a battering if we don't look after them that they can no longer work as well as they should, and they can become diseased. In extreme cases, they can stop functioning completely, which we call a kidney (or renal) failure. Happily, we only need one kidney to survive, which means that we can afford to lose one if it becomes unhealthy.

So, what can happen to our kidneys? The main condition that we need to be careful of is known as Chronic Kidney Disease. Recent research has found that a major cause of this is obesity, which makes sense, because our kidneys are especially vulnerable to the things we eat, given their jobs in our bodies. In fact, our diets are so important to healthy kidneys that we are seeing an increase in kidney disease as a result of eating too much unhealthy fast food. It is estimated that15% of South Africans suffer from some kind of kidney disorder

The main culprits here are Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. They both have very serious effects on our kidneys, weakening them and breaking down their ability to function.

7 Ways to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy

Unless there is a kidney condition in the family that is passed down – and this is quite rare – kidney diseases are completely preventable. Here are 7 things that you can do every day to help make sure your kidneys are healthy and happy.

1. Live an active lifestyle and keep fit

When we're fit our blood pressure is lower, which means far less strain on our kidneys. It doesn't really matter what kind of exercise we do, but the best exercises for kidney health are cardiovascular ones, like cycling and running.

2. Control your blood sugar

Diabetes is closely linked to kidney damage, so it's very important to follow the guidelines that protect you against diabetes. This means not eating too much sugar, in any form whatsoever. Remember, there is a LOT of sugar in a takeaway hamburger, for example, so do some research to find out about better low sugar options.

3. Look after your blood pressure

High blood pressure damages the kidneys, so make sure you have yours checked regularly. Maintain good blood pressure by eating properly and exercising regularly.

4. Drink lots of healthy fluids

Water is critical for the kidneys to function properly. It makes sense if you think about it for a moment. Imagine a cup of water with a little bit of salt in it, and another cup full of salt with just enough water to make it moist. It's far easier to pour from the first cup than the second, because the more water you have, the more the salt is diluted. Our kidneys work in the same way.

5. Don't smoke

Smoking not only puts toxins into our blood that the kidneys need to then cleanse, but it also narrows the blood vessels, which interferes with blood flow through the kidneys. This means that it is more difficult to remove the toxins from the bloodstream.

6. Don't drink too much alcohol

As we said above, the kidneys are used to remove alcohol from the blood. If we drink too much, we damage our kidneys over the long term, because having to process too much alcohol places a serious amount of strain on our kidneys and liver.

7. Be careful of over-the-counter pills

All medication (particularly pills and capsules) need to be processed by the kidneys, and some of these medications can have a serious effect if you take them for too long. So, make sure you tell your doctor about all medications you're taking, and how much of them you're using.

For more information please contact:
Dr MM Mahlangu (Specialist Physician / Nephrologist)
MBBCh(Wits) Mmed Internal Medicine (UL) Cert of Nephrology (CMSA)
Zamokuhle Private Hospital
+27 (0) 11 923 7750
info@lenmed.co.za or info@sd-nephrologist.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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Seven Lifestyle Factors That Will Benefit Your Health

It’s a fact, you cannot do much about your genetics but you can make some healthy lifestyle choices which will influence the longevity of your life and reduce your risk of getting sick. There are seven important lifestyle factors which will have a positive impact on your health and therefore increase your chances of living to a ripe old age.

The seven lifestyle factors are:

1. A healthy balanced diet

When you eat healthily and make sure your body is getting the right nutrition, you are providing it with a sustaining energy. You are also lowering your risk of getting serious lifestyle diseases, like heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and cancers. A healthy and balanced diet will prevent you from becoming overweight and putting you at risk of getting any one of the above lifestyle diseases.

However, while you don’t want to gain too much unhealthy weight, you also shouldn’t follow fad diets. Three balanced meals a day with a healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack will ensure you remain energised while providing your body with good nutrition.

2. Drinking lots of water

Did you know we can survive around 3 weeks without food yet we cannot go without water for more than 7 days? What this is telling us is that water is vital. We should be drinking eight glasses of pure water a day in order to keep hydrated and maintain good health. (Juices, cooldrinks and other beverages do not count as water.) Water aids healthy digestion, it keeps our cells hydrated and functioning properly, and it flushes toxins out of our bodies. It is thanks to water that our bodies are able to absorb vital nutrients from food.

3. Exercising regularly

All it takes is about 20 to 30 minutes of regular exercise on a daily basis to keep us fit and healthy. Finding something physical to do and committing to it will help reduce your heart rate and therefore decrease the risk of

cardiovascular disease. Exercising also strengthens muscles and therefore increases bone density, reducing the risk of you getting osteoporosis in your old age. It improves lung capacity and aids proper breathing. A big plus to doing regular exercise is it improves your mental health, reduces stress, helps you sleep better and improves your mood.

4. Plenty of sleep

A full night’s sleep is vital as it gives your body some time to regenerate and recharge. You should be getting no less than seven hours of sleep per night because your body needs this amount of time to take care of its metabolic functions, like repairing damaged cells, recharging tired old cells and getting rid of toxins. Consistent lack of sleep can have quite a serious effect on your physical and mental health and wellbeing.

5. Not smoking

If you want to increase your lifespan and decrease your risk of getting serious illnesses, you should never start smoking and, if you are a smoker, you should quit now. Constant exposure to the nicotine in tobacco can cause coronary artery disease, peptic ulcer disease, esophageal reflux, hypertension, fetal illnesses, delayed wound healing, and cancers, and can significantly shorten your lifespan.

6. Reducing alcohol consumption

If you are consuming a moderate amount of alcohol - about one drink a day - you have nothing to worry about. However, drinking more than this can lead to health issues, such as a higher risk of heart disease, some cancers (liver cancer in particular), high blood pressure and stroke. Alcohol can be addictive and if you have a drinking problem you are at a higher risk of having accidents, being violent and even having suicidal thoughts.

7. Keep a check on mental and physical health

As a rule of thumb, you should see your doctor for checkups at least every two to three years if you are under 50, and once a year if you are 50 or over. It is a good idea to have an open and honest relationship with your doctor as he or she will help you navigate your health journey through life. Remember that most diseases can be cured if they are detected at an early stage. This applies to your mental health, too.

Lenmed offers highly qualified doctors who are fully equipped to give you a full health assessment. Find a doctor in your area easily on our website.

For more information please contact:
John Nderitu, Clinical Dietician/Diabetes Educator
BSc Food Nutrition & Dietetics (Egert-Ke), MA Medical Sociology (UoN-Ke), PG Diploma in Diabetes (USW-UK)
Bokamoso Private Hospital
+26 (7) 369 4784
Info@Lenmed.co.za or John.Nderitu@bokamosohospital.org or john.nderit@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.


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