Hayden Horner
3 minute read
7 May 2020
6:35 am

As virus fears and anxiety mount, look after your mental health

Hayden Horner

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group offers a variety of call-through and online emotional counselling during lockdown.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the globe, a considerable level of worry, fear and concern is gripping the world’s population and South Africa, in spite of many of its people’s laugh-it-off attitude, is no exception.

South African mental health experts and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are noticing a marginal but altogether worrying uptick in the number of reported incidences of elevated anxiety and depression – even in individuals with no previously recorded medical history of either.

Barely a week after the government imposed the national lockdown in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) launched an online survey to gauge the mental health impact of Covid-19 on the public.

In its survey, run between 2 to 15 April and with responses from 1,214 people, Sadag was able to ascertain that there had, indeed, been a slight uptick in levels from 59% of all mental health concerns before lockdown to 65% during lockdown.

“The main challenges experienced among respondents are anxiety and panic (55%), financial stress and pressure (46%), depression (40%), poor family relations (30%), feelings of suicide (12%) and substance abuse (6%),” the NGO said on an infographic.

Phumzile Mthembu, a clinical psychologist based in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, said some people would struggle with separation anxiety, especially when considering our massive domestic migrant worker history and living away from home during this period.

“According to the 2016 Community Survey, only 65% of people living in Gauteng were born in the province,” said Africa Check in its report on domestic migration.

Mthembu said among the causes of separation anxiety was that “the family you left behind served as your secure base”.

She advised that when you were not with them, you probably felt out of place with no sense of belonging.

“You need to attempt positive self-talks by constantly telling yourself you are coping with or without your family, and learn to face your fears. Keeping in touch with your family and also trying to skip at least a day without talking to them until you adjust to that, can be useful.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that in public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date was elevated rates of stress or anxiety.

“But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise,” WHO said.

As part of their public mental health response, Sadag and WHO recommended increased mental health and psychosocial support during Covid-19.

Currently, Sadag offers a variety of call-through and online emotional counselling during lockdown.

“It’s natural to feel worried and overwhelmed about your safety and well-being.

“So, if you’re feeling concerned about the coronavirus, you are not alone,” said clinical psychologist Dessy Tzoneva on the Sadag website.


Sadag is providing support through:

  • Online Toolkit on the Sadag website (www.sadag.org) with free resources, online videos, reliable resources, coping skills, online tools and info on social distancing, self-isolation, etc.
  • Chat online with a counsellor seven days a week from 9am to 4pm via the Cipla WhatsApp chat line on 076-882-2775.
  • Free online #FacebookFriday ‘Ask the Dr’ answering all your questions on mental health.
  • Additionally, SMS 31393 or 32312 and a counsellor will call you back (available seven days a week and 24 hours a day).
  • Sadag helplines also provide free telephonic counselling, information, referrals and resources on: 0800-212-223, 0800-708-090 or 0800-456-789, or the Suicide Helpline 0800-567-567.

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