Covid-19 related stress on the rise in SA

20 December 2020 - 00:00
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group says call volumes have more than doubled to 1,400 a day since the start of Covid-19 lockdown.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group says call volumes have more than doubled to 1,400 a day since the start of Covid-19 lockdown.
Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Luvuyo Mnyute, who lives in Cape Town, always spends the end-of-year holiday at his ancestral home in East London.

This year there will be no family reunion and Mnyute, a diabetic, has even put his 20th wedding anniversary celebrations on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He is one of thousands of South Africans who have decided to stay away from their loved ones this Christmas for fear of the virus.

“After I saw in the news how fast the resurgence of Covid-19 was going, I decided to cancel,” he says. “For the first time I can relate to what it feels like to have anxiety. The fear of contracting the virus has been emotionally taxing. I’ve become very paranoid and my kids cannot stand my obsession of sanitising hands and staying indoors.”

Mnyute says losing his best friend, eNCA cameraman Lungile Tom, to Covid-19 also contributed to his anxiety. Tom died in May.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group says call volumes have more than doubled to 1,400 a day since the start of lockdown “and continue to grow each month”.

Operations director Cassey Chambers says anxiety, stress and loneliness during the early part of the lockdown were amplified by unemployment, work and financial stress and relationship problems.

“We are getting more calls related to depression, trauma and suicide. We are receiving many complex cases, with many people really desperate, burnt out and overwhelmed,” she says.

Dr Carina Marsay, a psychiatrist at Premier Health Centre in Randburg, Johannesburg, expressed concern at the mental state of South Africans. “Festive season loneliness is likely to be compounded by families not being able to be together,” she says.

Dr Kerissa Naidoo, Old Mutual’s chief medical officer, says that in 2019 the insurer paid out about 59% more in disability claims for psychiatric disorders than in 2016. Most claimants were aged between 30 and 50 and major depression accounted for 62% of psychiatric claims.

Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, head of clinical policy at Discovery Health, says mental health claims declined this year alongside claims for all other categories of hospital admissions.

“There was a 6% increase in psychotherapy consultations in March relative to 2019,” she says. But there’s been an overall 22% drop in consultations since March compared with last year. Depression made up more than half of mental health claims. Other high-frequency conditions were bipolar mood disorder and anxiety disorders.

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