By Garth Johnstone
During level 5 of lockdown we wrote about the psychological toll the coronavirus pandemic and national lockdown was having on many people in our community.
This included individuals’ private struggles but also concern for the broader community, our family and friends and how they are coping with the confinement, regulations, children unable to attend school and, perhaps most scary of all, salary cuts, retrenchments and businesses closing. For those less fortunate in our communities, the struggle to get a daily meal has been heartbreaking as a real hunger crisis has hit our country. Then there are the issue around access to quality health care as the pandemic worsens.
And now, three months later, the lockdown levels have changed, a number of key industries have been able to get back to work (although under very stringent requirements and regulations), and some jobs have been saved, but the devastation and anxiety is as real or worse than before. Personally, a number of our friends are struggling with at least some level of depression.
To add to the fear factor, there have been reported cases close to home, such as in one of the local hardware and agri suppliers, at the Nottingham Road Police Station and the Mpofana motor licensing and testing centre. They were all forced to temporarily close. Mooi River police also had a scare earlier due to officers being exposed to a person alleged to have contracted the virus. There have been cases in Howick with two banks reportedly closing temporarily due to positive cases.
Among the worst-hit sectors have been dining, hospitality and travel, which – when including the associated suppliers and support businesses – account for hundreds of thousands of jobs in SA. Employees are hard-hit and employers – some of whom have spent many years building up their businesses and their reputations, or taken over establishments with legendary status – now face the real threat of closure.
For some of them the relief funds and battles with insurance companies have come too late. The ban on interprovincial travel has had a severe impact and some have piled in their savings or taken out significant loans to try to keep businesses afloat.
The anxiety in our area is palpable due to its particular reliance on travel, hospitality and tourism which, with education and farming, are among the key employers and drivers of revenue.
Everyone knows someone who is under sever stress, who may be facing a life-changing situation – some are simply not coping.
While not wanting to diminish the devastating trail the virus has already left from a health perspective (with worse to come), it seems coronavirus has not just got into people’s bodies but into their heads and mindsets too.
A recent article published in The Atlantic online magazine stated: “Already, a third of Americans are feeling severe anxiety, according to Census Bureau data, and nearly a quarter show signs of depression. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the pandemic had negatively affected the mental health of 56% of adults. In April, texts to a federal emergency mental-health line were up 1,000 percent from the year before.”
The article stated: “Disaster mental-health specialists often talk about the five core elements of intervention – calming, self-efficacy, connectedness, hope, and a sense of safety – and those apply now as much as ever. At an organisational level, the response will depend on extensive screening, which is to the mental-health side of the pandemic roughly what testing is to the physical-health side.”
A different dance
“There are certain things that we can still put into place for people based on what we’ve learned about what’s helpful for PTSD and for depression and for anxiety, but we have to adjust it a bit,” says Patricia Watson, a psychologist at the US’s National Center for PTSD. “This is a different dance than the dance that we’ve had for other types of disasters.”
Wherever you are in the Midlands or elsewhere in our beautiful country, please take care of your mental health. Be kind to others, and if you are not coping, seek help from a professional.