Look after your mental health during crisis

A placard in support of mental health awareness.

Results from an online survey by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) during lockdown show that while 92% of people support the lockdown – 65% of them are very stressed during it.

Sadag says that since lockdown started their calls have doubled from people feeling anxious, lonely, worried and depressed.

Many callers are stressed about a combination of issues, including the spread of Covid-19, finances, relationship problems, job security, grief, gender-based violence and trauma.

Sadag ran the online survey last month. Within 10 days more than 1 200 participants completed the 7-minute survey asking them about their home life, their mental health before and during lockdown, how they accessed information and what coping tips helped them to manage their mental health during the lockdown.

The findings showed that 55% experienced anxiety and panic; 46% financial stress and pressure; 40% depression; 30% poor family relations; 12% feelings of suicide and 6% substance abuse.

A total of 59% of respondents said they had been diagnosed with a mental health issue prior to lockdown. Depression was the most common mental health diagnosis at 46%, anxiety was reported as the second most common diagnosis at 30%, and bipolar disorder at 12%.

“These conditions could certainly be exacerbated by the lockdown,” says Sadag board chairperson, Dr Frans Korb. “Particularly,” he adds, “if the individual lives alone or in a dysfunctional home situation.”

Alison Burns, a clinical psychologist from Tokai, says everyone is vulnerable in times of crisis and could experience feelings of depression and anxiety.

“I wouldn’t like to see an article that particularly targets people with these vulnerabilities. Everyone is likely to feel depression and anxiety during crisis and uncertainty. We don’t know what we’re facing health wise, we don’t know what our jobs are going to look like. People are facing losses at different levels, and some losses will hit you more than others.”

She adds: “Some are experiencing a lack of financial resources or emotional support, some are experiencing a loss of life as we knew it, you could lose the people you love. The uncertainty is widespread and quite severe.”

Ms Burns says environment affects mental stability and those enduring poor living conditions are likely to feel even more stressed during this time.

Ms Burns advises people to keep in contact with their loved ones, especially the ones they have not seen in a while.

Constantly looking at media can induce stress and people should limit how much time they spend reading and listening to the news, says Ms Burns.

She advises people to look at the news for half an hour in the morning or half an hour in the evening.

“I’d say more morning then evening though because if you look at it at night you sleep with it. I’d also say avoid getting stuck in the political insights, that’s not going to really help you feel more secure.”

Ms Burns advises people to exercise and keep up healthy habits. She also adds that there are a lot of home workout routines that can be accessed online that don’t require a lot of equipment.

“You’ve got time now, so do the things that you wouldn’t usually have the time to do. Get a guitar, learn about World War II, so something that you normally wouldn’t have the time to do.”

Anyone needing psycho-social support, can contact the provincial Department of Social Development hotline at 0800 220 250, to be connected to the nearest local office. Or call the Sadag helplines for free telephonic counselling at 0800 21 22 23, 0800 70 80 90, 0800 456 789 (24 hours a day) and 0800 12 13 14 (24 hours).