Depression and anxiety rise under lockdown
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Anxiety and depression have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, with health professionals across the globe describing it as a “mental health emergency”.
Well-known South African health writer, Glynis Horning, who was named as the Health Writer of the Year Award at the 2021 Galliova Awards last Friday (for the third year in a row), said she had done a number of articles on the impact of lockdown on mental health, as well as the continuing stigma surrounding mental health issues.
“I would say we are in a mental health crisis. The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) used to receive on average about 600 calls a day. This has risen to 2 200 calls a day,” said Horning, highlighting that in the latest NIDS-Cram report, 52% of South Africans have reported mental distress.
In her body of work submitted to the Galliova Awards was an article, titled “Island Life” published in JSE Magazine and looking at the pros and cons of remote working.
Research for the article indicated that while workers may be more productive or work longer hours remotely, psychologists found that “loneliness and isolation can cause emotional problems, including anxiety and depression, and potentially contribute to physical issues related to stress, including panic attacks, inability to sleep, loss of appetite and chest pains”.
It also highlighted that humans are social beings, with Robyn Sandy, an industrial psychologist, corporate change specialist and MD of Interchange International (South Africa), saying: “Although personality preferences influence the quality and quantity of these interactions, we all need some personal, face-to-face contact.
“Virtual interactions just do not achieve the same result. This may be due to the fact that feedback is more difficult to assess. Words, tone and body language make up a message and these subtle cues are hard to read electronically.”
Horning said this week: “Island Life looked at the effect of Covid isolation on mental health. It’s being cut off from people. It’s about missed interactions and relationships in the workplace,” she said, adding that recent research showed that 88% of people who were working remotely wanted to return to work.
On Tuesday, at a promotion for her book Waterboy: Making sense of my son’s suicide (Bookstorm) at Ike’s bookshop, she spoke of the rise in depression and anxiety under the Covid-19 lockdown, with the stigma surrounding mental health remaining “enormous”.
“I’ve been speaking out about it and it’s got better. It’s important for people to know there is help out there and for most people, it can make a big difference.”
With October being Mental Health Awareness Month, the Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority (HWSETA) recently hosted mental health livestreams with the goal of reducing stigma around mental health.
Speaking on one of the streams, clinical psychologist Anele Siswana said: “South Africans don’t always know how to speak about mental health. We don’t have the language to speak about mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.”
HWSETA’s livestreams host Dr Bello Alvarez said stigma around mental health is both internal and external.
“We need to embark on a proactive psycho-education awareness drive where we talk about common disorders and how they can be treated.
“More and more, we are seeing highly functional individuals coming forward with their mental health struggles and speaking openly about the daily challenges they face,” said Alvarez.
The Independent on Saturday