Pandemic hits society where it hurts the most
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Johannesburg - With death and loss becoming a frequent experience in our society right now, anxiety, depression, loneliness and isolation have heightened.
South Africans have in the past year experienced high levels of death, whether due to the agonising coronavirus or other fatalities, and that has in turn created a “numb community”, according to psychologist Anele Siswana.
Siswana explains that Covid-19 has created a new norm that has forced humanity to deal with death in a painful and radical manner.
“The pandemic has introduced us to everyday deaths, with people dying in high numbers, making us experience death in ways that we have never imagined.
“I suppose this is one of the factors that contribute to the kind of a social trauma and collective grief that we are experiencing.
“‘Collective grief’ because we have seen when one passes on, the collective community feels the pain of loss and the process of mourning as a collective begins.
“This is where we have seen the literal expressions of ubuntu umntu, ngumntu ngabantu, and it is not only the immediate family that feels the loss but is felt by the collective,” he added.
With these constant, untimed blows, clinical mental disorders are developed, Siswana explains, as a result of difficulty to determine boundaries between normal and abnormal grief and mourning processes.
“Overall, we can clearly see that there is a percentage of individuals who may fail to return to normal functioning; they are stuck with a degree of steady mourning and functional impairment.
“Ideally, a person who is affected by grief as a result of death will most likely display some of the emotional symptoms associated with grieving.
“These can range from a deep sense of sadness that is extremely overwhelming, a sense of emptiness, being in denial, preoccupation with loss, bitterness and the inability to find acceptance and a sense of detachment,” he adds.
With the above expressed, Siswana insists that our mental health strength and resilience is highly individualised.
“And because we have different emotional scopes, I recommend one establishes a compass that helps them to make sense of situations at their level of emotional capacity.
“This is also tied to availability and access to mental health services.
“I suppose those who have access to mental health services and psychologists have an outlet to go and process difficult emotions.
“While those who do not have, are likely to deteriorate and struggle with their mental health.
“Making it imperative to work on one’s mental health on a daily,” he says.
For Valencia Maleka, she says, she is not fearful of losing people anymore because her biggest fears have come true – the passing of her father, losing her bond with her siblings and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, all during this period of the pandemic.
Maleka shares that she was already dealing with mental illness before the pandemic hit.
“This time has actually brought up people’s mental illness and forced us to deal with our struggles, that we could mask up with various activities in our past reality.
“We have been further exposed that we are a depressed nation and all these tragedies are further breaking us down, forcing us to face ourselves and deal, just like I did,” she adds.
Bheki Zondo noticed that his mental health took a dive in the face of all the tragic news that we have been exposed to.
“I’ve even had to uninstall my social media apps and force myself to meditate because I was losing it,” he says, shaking his head.
“I am a banker and that requires my full attention but I found myself losing so much focus in the last couple of months. I had to take medical leave, to regroup. It’s been tough, he says.
Zondo concedes that although he hasn’t lost anyone close to him nor has he lost his job, it is the rate of negative news that he was consuming that plunged him into this deep hole of depression that he is in.
“I just wonder how people are coping, because living is so painful right now.
“I am not big on prayer but I sometimes find myself praying because I can feel how I need all the help to survive,” he said.
Siswana advises that there is a need to cultivate and enhance healthy ways of engaging with social media as a collective space, for support and the expression of empathy.
“The ease of (lockdown) restrictions has enabled us to reconfigure our ways of engaging with death.
“As a collective community, we are now able to show support, and empathy to the bereaved but should continue using social media and all these platforms with impact.
“These reconfigured ways consist of family prayers, community engagements to support individuals with mental health problems, going back to indigenous expressions of love, care and healing.
“I strongly believe in the involvement of psychologists in writing, teaching and empowering our communities, as a way of social justice.
“In today's time where not everyone has access to professional help, experts should avail themselves more through psycho-education on various platforms.
“It is needed.”