Physical distancing should not mean emotional distancing, say psychologists

Psychologists are offering tips and free, brief, online support services to deal with frayed lockdown nerves.

Mental health practitioners in South Africa are looking at ways to help people deal with mental health issues that may be caused by being in lockdown.

From under-pressure medical workers to ordinary people stuck alone in their homes, this can be a very difficult time.

The move comes after a request from the Durban Practicing Psychologists Group (DPPG) to offer free, brief, online support services for people battling anxiety, loneliness or depression during quarantine or lockdown, says Suntosh Pillay, a clinical psychologist at Durban’s King Dinuzulu Hospital.

“Our wellbeing as humans relies on interpersonal connections. Quarantine and lockdown disrupts these connections and may induce anger, sadness, grief, and other difficult feelings,” Pillay told Highway Mail.

An over-reliance on social media for news can have a negative effect on how we feel.

“We should call friends, family, neighbours and colleagues and have conversations to check in on people. Don’t just forward messages of doom and gloom in WhatsApp groups – find out how everyone is,” he urged.

Pillay says it is important to understand the full effects a lockdown can have on a person. It can change their emotional state rapidly. People who are confined on their own can be some of the most vulnerable.

“Quarantine and lockdown disrupts human connections and may induce anger, sadness, grief, and other difficult feelings.”

Counselling psychologist Kerry Frizelle says stress has a number of effects on the human body, in particular for medical workers who are on the frontline.

“We have to address people’s psychological response to this pandemic and help process the trauma they are accumulating while taking on more and more in a time of crisis. People’s adrenaline is high, their cortisol levels are high and they go, go go, until they suddenly drop.”

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) KZN office is also trying to set up free online support groups, while their community-based groups meetings are temporarily suspended.

For support groups, contact or call 0800 456 789, and for a psychologist email

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