Help! Lockdown sees calls to SA Anxiety and Depression Group double

24 March 2021 - 10:58
By iavan pijoos AND Iavan Pijoos
Lockdown has had profound effects on people's lives and mental health across SA. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/F8studio Lockdown has had profound effects on people's lives and mental health across SA. Stock photo.

More than 500,000 people have called the SA Anxiety and Depression Group (Sadag) seeking help since the nationwide lockdown took effect.

Callers were grappling with anxiety, grief, depression, loss and financial distress as the lockdown, which was imposed to save lives during the Covid-19 pandemic, took its toll on mental health and relationships.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the initial 21-day hard lockdown on March 23 last year in an attempt to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 infections. People were compelled to stay home and venture out only for essentials. Restaurants, gyms, liquor and clothing stores were among the businesses that had to close.

At the time of his address, there were 402 cases of Covid-19 in SA.

Call volumes to Sadag helplines doubled after the lockdown announcement.

Sadag director Cassey Chambers said before lockdown they received about 600 calls a day.

“From the beginning of lockdown our call volumes doubled to 1,200 calls per day. We are now dealing with 1,400-plus calls each day, excluding e-mails, SMSes and WhatsApp appeals for help.”

Sadag received 501,412 calls for help between March 2020 and February 2021 and an additional 101,387 suicide helpline calls.

Chambers said the group had received more than 6,000 SMSes and more than 26,000 WhatsApp messages during the same period.

Some of the key issues affecting callers included anxiety and stress, financial problems, depression, grief, loss and suicide. 

Chambers said at the beginning of lockdown they received more calls around anxiety, isolation and stress as citizens were adapting to the situation.

“As lockdown was extended and lasted longer than anticipated, the impact of Covid-19 touched on every aspect of our lives. People were losing their jobs, worried about where to stay, dealing with trauma and increased anxiety. Their own mental health was triggered and people had relapsed.

“Since the beginning of 2021, even though so many people were hoping for a fresh start and a new year, it was a very difficult start for many people. With the second wave of infections and the high death toll, we were receiving more calls related to grief, loss, financial issues and anxiety about all aspects of life - work, finances, relationships, schooling.”

Chambers said women accounted for the bulk of calls to helplines.

“Females are better at help-seeking behaviour for themselves, and at calling on behalf of a loved one.

“Male callers to our helplines are more acute or serious cases who often need crisis intervention and support.”

Men were four times more likely to die by suicide than women.