Looting, Covid-19 add to load as trauma centres see uptick in cases
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Cape Town - It’s not only the pandemic that put severe strain on trauma centres, but so has the widespread looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng over the past week.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) operations director Cassey Chambers said they had noted an influx of calls from people who have been directly affected by the looting and violence happening across the country.
“People that are reaching out this week are really just desperate. They are not coping, they feel overwhelmed and their anxiety or depression has been triggered so they are reaching out for further help.
“We also have a lot of really difficult complex trauma cases of people who have lost their homes, who have been kicked out, who are worried about how to feed their families that night. People who are just feeling constantly scared and fearful for themselves, their children and their families and they just don't know what to do,” she said.
While providing trauma counselling and support, Chambers said their counsellors were also going above and beyond to try to help callers, whether it be finding out which shelters are open and who have space.
She added that they had noted an increase in trauma-related calls since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture executive director, Marguerite Holtzhausen said trauma cases had gone up 51% since June last year.
“There are very few free counselling options in communities, especially in local languages. We have been doing our best to be consistent at community offices on a weekly basis.
“People are referred word by mouth or referred by the police where we do counsel from their victim friendly rooms. We have been overwhelmed because our communities are traumatised by violence they experience daily. We saw higher numbers of gender-based violence,” said Holtzhausen.
Due to the pandemic, old wounds were uncovered and more people came to talk about past experiences of sexual violence at the centre.
With regard to the children they counsel, Mbuyisi Sithole, a social worker, said: “Statistics of rape is shocking as almost every week we deal with a new rape case and all the role-players in authority are not working in cohesion, as there is a recurrence of case from the same victims, meaning that the prosecution and sentencing of the perpetrators is lacking.”
Holtzhausen said the severity of people’s traumatic experiences, as the inability of our justice system to protect victims of violence was shocking.
“We also see a lack of parenting skills which leads to an increase in cases of children with deviant behaviour.”
The centre does work in Delft, Kraaifontein, Manenberg, Belhar, Bellville, Bonteheuwel and Langa.
Head of Philisa Abafazi Bethu, Lucinda Evans noted an increase in domestic violence cases, especially since country moved back to level 4 of lockdown.
“People are not working, they have lost jobs. Throughout Covid-19 there has been an increase,” said Evans.
Helderberg Counselling said they had also seen a sharp increase in cases with people looking for help with trauma.
Saartjie Baartman Centre said they received fewer cases during lockdown level 5, and they think this could have been because the victims were locked in with the perpetrators.
“However, when the alcohol ban was lifted our centre was full within three days. We house about 120 women and children at our facility,” said social services manager Miriam Fredericks.
The Department of Social Development (DSD) has six regional offices and 45 local offices across the province from which a range of services are rendered, including trauma counselling.
“Social workers from DSD render trauma counselling and psycho-social support to children, women, boys and men alike across the entire province.
“In this regard, DSD offers a range of programmes and services to assist in alleviating the amount of trauma being experienced across the province,” said department spokesperson Joshua Chigome.