A year of lockdown: Sadag helpline calls have doubled since lockdown was announced

Lockdown cuts us off from many of our resilience factors such as social contact, work relationships, fun social events. Picture: Supplied

Lockdown cuts us off from many of our resilience factors such as social contact, work relationships, fun social events. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 25, 2021


Call volumes to SA Anxiety and Depression Group (Sadag) helplines doubled after the lockdown announcement. It’s been a year since the lockdown was announced and more than 500 000 people have called since then seeking help.

During 2020 the world was thrown into a new way of living due to Covid-19 and with that came many changes that hardly anyone was prepared for, resulting in high levels of stress and compromised immune systems.

Sadag operations director Cassey Chambers said before lockdown they received about 600 calls a day.

“From the beginning of lockdown our call volumes doubled to 1 200 calls a day. We’re now dealing with 1 400-plus calls each day, excluding e-mails, SMSes and WhatsApp appeals for help.

“The reasons that people have reached out for help have varied – the top issues include anxiety and stress, financial problems, depression, grief/loss and suicide.”

Sadag received 501 412 calls for help between March 2020 and February 2021 and an additional 101 387 suicide helpline calls.

Chambers said the NGO had received more than 6 000 SMSes and more than 26 000 WhatsApp messages during the same period.

“As lockdown was extended and lasted longer than anticipated, the impact of Covid-19 touched on every aspect of our lives. People were losing their jobs, worried about where to stay, dealing with trauma and increased anxiety. Their mental health was triggered and people had relapsed.

“Since the beginning of 2021, even though so many people were hoping for a fresh start and a new year, it was a very difficult start for many people. With the second wave of infections and the high death toll, we were receiving more calls related to grief, loss, financial issues and anxiety about all aspects of life – work, finances, relationships, schooling.”

Chambers said women accounted for the bulk of calls to helplines.

“Females are better at help-seeking behaviour for themselves, and at calling on behalf of a loved one.

“However, male callers to our helplines are more acute or serious cases that often need crisis intervention and support. Men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.”

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott says: “We know that common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression have risen as a rest of the pandemic as a whole and that these issues spike in lockdown.

“Repetition of stressful events increases the impact of the event even if it’s not as difficult as the first one, and the more repetitions, the greater the impact on us and reduction of our resilience factors.

“Know the signs that you or a loved one needs help, such as significant change in mood, eating and appetite shifts, constant tiredness, irritability, disrupted sleep and headaches, and get help sooner rather than later.”

Tibb Health Sciences recommends the following four easy tips to help manage your stress, and keep your immune system healthy:

During exercise, your body releases endorphins and lowers the stress hormones

The endorphins improve your mood, and act as a natural painkiller. Exercise will also improve your sleep quality and confidence. If you can’t get out on the road or to the gym, a simple exercise to release stress from your muscles is to tense and relax them.

Remember to breathe

There are many different types of breathing exercise that can help. When the stress hormone is released into your body it increases your breathing rate, and to slow it down you can take deep, long breaths, hold them, and then release.

This will bring you back to your calm state and allow you to think clearer. Regular and relaxed breathing can greatly improve your health by regulating your heartbeat, strengthening your nerves, increasing your metabolism and settling your mind.

Sleep and rest are vital when dealing with a stressful lifestyle

Being in front of our computers, tablets and phones all day affects our quality of sleep, and therefore affects our ability to cope. Sleep should never be compromised on.

Think happy thoughts

Our mental state can affect how we react to things around us. If we keep focusing on the negative and don’t acknowledge the positives in our lives, there will never be a moment of peace. Being positive contributes to improved health and an overall sense of well-being.

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