Coronavirus effects are going to be felt by many. Picture: File
Coronavirus effects are going to be felt by many. Picture: File

How communities will recover from the aftermath of Covid-19

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published May 29, 2020

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Worldwide, communities have been put under unimaginable stresses and pressures, with the measures to lockdown and stop the spread of the virus being very frightening for many.

During this time, a number of mental health professionals saw a rise in mental health-related illnesses. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group says they have been receiving more calls since the start of lockdown 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.

A large number of people also reported sleep difficulties during the lockdown. Even those who previously had no sleep problems seem to be struggling with sleep disturbances.

As South Africa phases out lockdown regulation, it won’t be easy going back to life as we knew it. The effects of the pandemic may be felt for years: many within the population will suffer health problems for years to come due to the physiological and psychological trauma at the forefront of this crisis. 

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott who has been looking at how communities can recover from the pandemic and how post-traumatic growth will play an important role in this, says that, as a nation, we can thrive in the face of adversity by controlling how we think and feel about these events, allowing for positive growth from the trauma that the virus has left behind.

“Now is the time to look at mental fitness and positive psychology techniques to allow ourselves to process these experiences and to move into a mindset of growth. We need to reformulate our mental health interventions now to move into post-trauma growth models and begin teaching ourselves the skills used in this approach, especially as we are likely to see social distancing measures in place for months if not years ahead”, he adds.

When we speak of trauma and resiliency, often we’re thinking about bouncing back to where we were before it happened. However, McDermott says during this pandemic, it makes sense that many people are facing various levels of trauma and hardship. “Our normal ways of coping (our normal social life) have become disrupted. However, despite these challenges, we have an opportunity to engage with new methods of coping and even growth.”

During this time, McDermott advises that we develop an acceptance approach and learn to live more in-the-moment, reducing your expectations and the timescales, you try to manage, from the next 18 months to the here-and-now. This will give you back the power to manage your thoughts and feelings because we can’t change reality, but we can change ourselves.

And, he adds, developing a growth mindset: finding what you embrace in any situation and can own as positive will move you out of survival mode and into a thriving mode. “Learning how to thrive in the face of adversity will lead to positive growth from traumatic situations, helping you develop meaning and purpose and manage uncomfortable anxiety and depression”

Counselling psychologist Dr Mark Hoelterhoff says: “Many of us now have a heightened awareness of the difficulties, stress and even trauma that we’re facing in the world today. There is no doubt that life-threatening events can cause real suffering and take a significant toll on our mental well-being. However, is that the full story… does trauma debilitate us? 

"The theory of Posttraumatic Growth suggests that we can go beyond surviving trauma, we can thrive despite and because of trauma. Experiencing a traumatic event can have a transformational role in our resilience and can even facilitate growth. It’s not just about bouncing back from these traumatic times, it’s about bouncing forward”

Hoelterhoff says in moving forward, post-traumatic growth needs to involve "life-changing" perspectives, new ways of relating to the world and engaging in ways that contribute to a process of meaningful change. In order to open ourselves up to personal growth, we should focus on the following key skills: Keeping some kind of record or journal to note what we are grateful for on a regular basis. Allowing ourselves to develop connections to things greater than our own experience. Focusing on our relationships with those we love.

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