On being admitted to a mental health clinic for the first time, you may be surprised to find yourself among ordinary people who simply need help to cope with a rough patch in their lives.

It started again one morning at work. I was about enter the office when I took a step back – and froze. As it happened, my boss at the time was an aficionado of prescription drugs. She took one look at me and fished a random tranquilliser out of her bag. Strictly not medically advisable, in fact dangerous, but then so was her chosen lifestyle.

I proceeded to stumble home in a haze and pass out for 36 hours. After which I saw my GP and left with a script for an antidepressant. I’d suffered chronic anxiety since childhood but only taken medication as an adult, precipitated by a severe and prolonged postnatal illness. Now, after a number of years unmedicated, I was back on pills. And they worked. I returned to my desk days later.

To anyone resisting pharmaceutical help: It’s not a sign of weakness. In fact, it takes courage to admit you have a problem and reach out. If you end up breaking down – and many people who didn’t even realise they had a problem, do – you’ll need meds anyhow. And possibly even a stay at a specialised mental health clinic.

Fast-forward to recent times, and a period of sustained pressure – stress at home, work deadlines, family commitments, elderly, frail parents. The anxiety broke through. I was angry, irritable, panicky, and waking at night with my heart banging.

“Put in the work, and the programme works.”

Aviva Singer

I lost track of time, my thinking was irrational, and I quit driving because I’d have to stop at the side of the road to try and remember why I was even in the car. I felt fragmented, broken into tiny pieces.

My therapist had been recommending in-clinic treatment for weeks, but I kept insisting I didn’t have time. Until she said, “I can’t let you leave my office” – and called a psychiatrist colleague to arrange admission to a clinic.

A mental health clinic is not what you may think. The patients are ordinary people. Some have never sought professional help and find themselves there after an unexpected breakdown. Others, like me, have been diagnosed and under medical treatment for some time.

No pity party

And don’t imagine it’s a rest home or a pity party. They work you hard for your own good. From 8am-4pm you attend various group sessions and one-to-ones with your psychiatrist and counsellor. The facilitators have you confront your issues, interact, identify destructive patterns, and open up to the group. Think you’ll miss a session and retreat to your room? The nurses will firmly suggest otherwise. Put in the work, and the programme works.

My group came from every walk of life – from a blue-collar municipal worker to a high-ranking government official. The successful architect too depressed to work who watched movies 24/7. The handsome celebrity offspring who told manipulative lies. The bewildered macho dad who had a sudden breakdown and thought therapy was nonsense – but was sharing and crying by his third day. The self-made tycoon suffering PTSD after a hell-hole jail stint abroad. And my funny, raucous “girl gang” roomies, who I still stay in touch with.

In short, a clinic is a great leveller. Circumstances are different, but the patterns are the same. I emerged more resilient and able to self-manage. I’d switched to more effective medication while in the clinic and was able to function better and press restart.

My diagnosis is chronic, so I take my meds and see my mental health providers regularly. I have wobbles, but I know I’m in safe hands. My advice? if you’re struggling, seek help. Reach out to a healthcare professional and if necessary, get a psychiatric referral. Your mind, your body, your loved ones – and your career – will thank you for it.

To find a mental health professional near you visit Mediclinic operates five dedicated mental health units in Welkom, George, and Newcastle. Mediclinic Denmar Mental Health Services in Pretoria, and Mediclinic Crescent Mental Health Services in Cape Town offer residential treatment.


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