SA is struggling, new mental health study finds
Durban-based clinical psychologist offers tips to maintain your equilibrium
SA and the UK scored the lowest in a groundbreaking study on the mental wellbeing of countries.
Sapien Labs' inaugural Mental State of the World 2020 report found that SA also has the highest financial distress due to Covid-19 followed by the UK.
New Zealand and Australia had the least.
The average mental wellbeing score was highest for respondents from Singapore and the US.
The study from The Mental Health Million Project provided key insights on the impact Covid-19 had on mental health in each corner of the globe a year since the outbreak.
It found that this unprecedented pandemic had a profound cost on their mental wellbeing with 57% of people experiencing some adversity or trauma related to Covid-19.
The project obtained data from 49,000 people across eight countries — the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore and SA — using a uniquely designed online assessment called the Mental Health Quotient.
The assessment evaluated one's ability to manage and regulate emotions effectively and to have a constructive or optimistic outlook for the future, how one relates to others, and the ability to work towards goals as well as the ability to synthesise and make sense of complex sets of events and situations and display a longer-term perspective in thoughts and behaviour.
“The data suggests that there will be long-term fallout from the pandemic on the mental health front. We can expect the younger generations to be hit hardest, with disruptions in typical youth milestones occurring and facing a fundamentally changed world that is harder to survive in,” says Sapien Labs founder and chief scientist Dr Tara Thiagarajan.
Durban-based clinical psychologist Nazia Osman said the first Covid-19 death in SA a year ago, the subsequent lockdowns and the two intense waves of Covid-19 were nothing “less than traumatic, exhausting and overwhelming to our systems at the emotional, social, physical and psychological levels”.
Panic disorder, illness anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and obsessive compulsive disorders are on the rise.Clinical psychologist Nazia Osman
“Being in an intense lockdown and acutely aware of the number of people getting infected set the stage for a hypervigilance to any bad news. We were all sitting at the edge of our seats, unaware of the implications but also hopeful that we would be able to conquer the virus in a short period of time.
“The news of mortality frightened most people out of the notion that Covid-19 wasn’t that bad or not a problem for Africa. Many tried to cope with the defence mechanism of rationalisation to make sense of the death by looking for underlying conditions and vulnerabilities. Others were met with shock and intense anxiety, fearing what this meant to them.
“The high rates of mortality have created intense anxiety about our own health and those of our loved ones. Panic disorder, illness anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and obsessive compulsive disorders are on the rise,” Osman said
She explained that changes in sleeping patterns, reduced ability to concentrate, stress of loss of finances and stripping away of coping mechanisms that used to work like gym and socialisation made the picture bleaker.
“The feeling of what we are experiencing at present can be [likened] to being in a storm but it's critical to acknowledge that we are in different boats. Though most of us have experienced loss, some are able to manage their stress, while others are barely able to get themselves out of bed.”
Tips to maintain your mental equilibrium
Osman provided a few simple tips to maintain a sense of mental equilibrium:
Restrict media and social media coverage to prevent it from becoming too overwhelming and only obtain information from credible news sources.
Most importantly, acknowledge your feelings and allow yourself the full range of emotions. It’s OK not to be OK right now, in fact, it’s normal. We are trying to be as normal as we can possibly be, in an abnormal situation. Toxic positivity has increased during this time, where we are not allowed to feel sad or disappointed. Denying how difficult this time is won’t make it any easier. We can’t, as human beings, just choose only the emotions we want to have, it simply doesn’t work that way. Feeling all our feelings, painful or not, keeps up grounded in the present moment. And in the present moment, we’re in a global pandemic.
Recognise what you are doing well. It may be tough right now, but you have managed some things really well. Think about the struggles you may have encountered in the last year, and give yourself kindness and compassion, even praise and encouragement for having lived through this phase and doing your best.
Covid seems to have taken away our ability to make long-term plans and at times makes us feel despondent and out of control. It’s important at this point to look for things that give you a sense of mastery and semblance of control. We may not be able to control the outcome of the disease, but we can control our reaction to it and engage in simple healthy habits that make us feel good about ourselves. Engage in pro-social behaviour by helping others in simple ways like dropping food off or lending a compassionate ear or even shoulder to cry on. These tasks have been found to increase positive mood states and enhance our sense of mastery and make us feel good about ourselves.
These are times of great uncertainty. If you find yourself getting caught up in worries about the future, bring your mind back to the body in the present moment. Breathe. Literally this disease has taken our breath away and the simple things like taste and smell. So to take it back, practise breathing exercises that help strengthen your lungs, calm you down and recentre yourself by taking it slow, appreciating and savouring each bite of food, each smell, each sensation. Keep it simple and enjoy the blessing of each moment.
Going forward, remember it is a normal human emotion to be anxious during a pandemic. In fact, anxiety often keeps us safe and motivates us to wear a mask and social distance out of fear of getting ourselves and others sick. Balance is key, be cautious but not impulsive or on the other hand paranoid.