They call it the ronacoaster – because you’re up one day and down the next. You’re terrified a lot of the time, and hanging on for dear life through all kinds of stresses and worries: potential or actual unemployment, remote schooling, or fear that you or your family will contract and/or die from COVID-19. To add insult to injury, there’s no telling when this ride will end – just the prospect of more lockdown, more of the same.
You may even wonder if you’re losing your mind completely at times. If it’s any consolation, your response to this situation is not only understandable, it’s also shared by many other people. Those who already struggle with mental health issues like anxiety and depression are finding that their symptoms have been heightened, while those who usually don’t have to worry about mental health are noticing a distinct change in their emotions.
Cassey Chambers, operations director of SADAg (the South African Depression and Anxiety group), says their helpline call volumes have literally doubled during lockdown. “Before lockdown, we were getting about 600 calls a day, but since it started, our calls have been increasing. We are now getting between 1 000 and 1 400 calls per day, with hundreds more SMSes, emails and WhatsApp messages.
“People are really struggling,” she says, “and we anticipate that as more people are impacted by COVID-19, we will get even more calls in the coming months.”
And it’s not just one group of people calling either. Individuals from all walks of life are simply not coping with the new ‘normal’ that has been thrust upon them. “We get calls from company CEOs, business owners, employees, health professionals, people who have been unemployed or recently retrenched,” says Chambers. “We also get parents who are worried about their children and teens who are struggling and feel very depressed. We have received calls from children all the way up to the elderly – which just shows that everyone has been affected in some way: mental health doesn’t discriminate and neither does COVID-19. There is a really powerful saying: ‘We are all in the same storm, but we are all in different boats’.”
What’s going on?
Johannesburg psychologist Chris Kemp says we’re feeling this way because we are “inherently social animals” and are all feeling the lack of social contact. “There was quite a sense of optimism at the beginning of lockdown,” says Kemp. “People were looking forward to the slower pace, and to being at home and more relaxed, but now many people are feeling frustrated, angry and cut off from family and friends.
“We take comfort in familiarity and the predictability of our routines,” he adds. “now, we have to do things differently, and there’s no end in sight. Everything is so nebulous – and we’re wondering if life will ever be the same again.
“We’re also suffering from the inability to plan anything – we all thought it would be over sooner. And even when it is all over, we don’t know if the world will look the same. Plus, there’s the looming threat of a second wave. So there’s a lot of anxiety, and a desperation to return to the world as it was before.”
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Spring 2020 - Issue 34