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‘Claim your existence during load shedding,’ says mental health experts as Sadag survey provides power outages insights

Supplied image.

Supplied image.

Published Mar 18, 2023


Johannesburg - William Kleinhans* has been living through various rounds of load shedding for much of his life already.

But the 34-year-old personal trainer from the south of Joburg is struggling to cope with the latest power outages.

“I should be used to it by now but the financial and physiological impact this time is really affecting me and it's taking me to a mental state that I experienced during the pandemic,” he told The Saturday Star this week.

Kleinhans explained that his entire work and personal schedule is now solely based on load shedding as he tries to fit as much in as he can when the power is still on.

“The gym that I work at doesn't have a generator so I am now forced to change the fitness routines I do with my clients which is extremely challenging.

“Some of them simply cancel their sessions because it's so frustrating for everyone in the gym to squeeze into the sections of the gym without the machines that run on electricity.”

This is causing Kleinhans, who is a father of two young children, significant financial pressure because no work means no pay.

“There is nothing I can do about it and I am trying to get more clients and to train them as much as I can when the power is out but the schedules keep changing which makes things even more difficult.”

He added that following a healthy diet as well as a regular fitness routine has eased some of the emotional distress caused by load shedding but he is still forced to deal with the financial realities of the constant power outages.

“I might have to start looking for another job if things stay this way but for now I am just trying to do the best I can.”

Meanwhile, Sally Brooks* might be a stay at home mother but the latest rounds of load shedding has also caused her significant stress and trauma.

“I have three young boys and our entire lives have been dependent on load shedding.”

Brooks, who is also from the south of Joburg, explained that she and her husband don't have extra money for a generator or inverter and are instead forced to have no power when there is load shedding.

“From the time we wake up in the morning, we have to adjust if there is load shedding.”

“I have to get the kids ready, cook and do all my chores while the load shedding schedule keeps changing.”

“This has been so frustrating and has really drained my mood,” she admitted.

Brooks is also concerned about the future of the country and what the constant power outages will mean for her children.

“My husband and I always worry about what kind of South Africa our children will live in if this load shedding continues like this,” she said.

“We feel hopeless and there is nothing we can do about it.”

Brooks and Kleinhans are two of scores of South Africans who are emotionally impacted by load shedding.

And in a bid to get a statistical viewpoint on how the power outages are impacting on the mental health of the nation, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) recently conducted research on the matter.

They surveyed 836 respondents in order to reflect on the ways that load shedding impacted their daily lives, their fears, their feelings, and how they were managing to cope with this crisis.

Bronwyn Dworzanowski-Venter, a researcher and sociologist from the University of Johannesburg (UJ), who was part of the team which spearheaded the Sadag research explained that they were particularly interested in uncovering specific pressure points that could lead to adverse psychological and practical outcomes.

“There was a lot of talk in the press and on social media about the way that load shedding was impacting people’s lives but other than moving individual stories we didn’t have a critical mass of people,” she said during a Facebook live seminar last week on the matter.

Dworzanowski-Venter explained that four in 10 people reported depression, while 62% said that they struggled with anxiety and panic.

“One of the most important things that we found was the connection between how someone is feeling on the mental, financial as well as social front.”

Meanwhile, clinical psychologist Sikander Kalla who was also part of the Sadag research added that the survey results corresponded with what he was personally encountering at his own practice.

“We don't function as a vacuum, we are subject to the elements and if you factor in the Covid-19 pandemic, a core theme has been the uncertainty,” he said during the Facebook live.

He added that load shedding schedules and the erratic nature in which they change causes uncertainty in many aspects including job security, safety as well as academic performances.

“We know in South Africa that livelihoods are so intertwined with our lived experiences so trying to navigate that landscape every single day is very challenging.”

He added that from a cognitive perspective, load shedding has created quite a strong sense of disillusionment because the nation is just coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While load shedding is set to continue for the foreseeable future, Kalla and Dworzanowski-Venter advised the nation to try and claim as much of their time and existence as they can during load shedding.

“87% of people surveyed said that they chose to do something sedentary during load shedding like sleeping or numbing out on their phones and for many it feels like Covid 2.0 because people are suspending their existence,” Dworzanowski-Venter said.

“But there are also those who said that they refuse to stop living just because the power is out and have decided to do things like read or exercise when there is load shedding because people are saying that the grid might belong to Eskom but my time belongs to me.”

Kalla agreed and urged people to keep some sort of normalcy in their lives, despite the power outages.

“It is important to keep some structure and follow a good sleep routine, follow a balanced diet and to exercise regularly.”

*Not their real names.

The Saturday Star