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Medical workers prepare for COVID-19 testing in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, Cape Town, South Africa, April 8, 2020 as South Africa remained on lockdown in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus.
AP Photo

COVID-19 Is Having a Serious Toll on South Africans’ Mental Health: Study

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Although COVID-19 has increased the levels of stress and anxiety in South Africa, many citizens do not have the financial means or access to mental health care services. The UN’s Global Goal 3 that advocates for good health and well-being can only be achieved if the country invests in mental health care. Take action on this issue here and join the movement for accessible health care for all. 

More than 1,200 South African adults were polled by pharmaceutical company, Pharma Dynamics, in a survey aimed at understanding how the pandemic has affected mental health in the country.

The results showed that 56% of adults are experiencing higher levels of emotional and psychological stress than they were before the pandemic.

In a statement, Mental Health Portfolio Manager at Pharma Dynamics, Abdurahman Kenny, said that people who previously coped well under pressure are now struggling due to unprecedented stress triggers caused by the pandemic. On the other hand, those with pre-existing mental health conditions may have experienced their symptoms getting worse. 

According to Kenny, the majority of the survey’s respondents have had personal experience with the coronavirus, either having contracted the virus themselves, or knowing someone close to them who has. This reported exposure subsequently resulted in heightened anxiety levels. 

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“We are likely to see much higher rates of mental illness among South Africans post the pandemic and need to increase psychosocial support efforts to avoid a COVID-19 related mental health crisis,” Kenny said.

A large percentage of people experienced work and employment-related stress because of the pandemic, with 53% of respondents reporting that they had either lost their job, taken a pay cut, or had to close their business. 

The survey also observed that 68% of respondents are concerned about the impact the pandemic will have on society and the economy. “The disruptions in routine and economic activity that the pandemic has caused has had a devastating impact on mental health,” said Kenny. 

Although respondents are aware of their increased stress levels, most have struggled to find a healthy coping mechanism, as roughly 65% of them have admitted to neglecting their health

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The survey revealed that in order to cope, 81% of respondents turned to unhealthy food, 20% turned to alcohol, 18% to cigarettes, 6% to smoking cannabis, and 22% have relied on antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. 

Kenny also said that nearly half (49%) of the respondents were interested in seeing a therapist or receiving external mental health support, however they were limited due to a lack of finances or access. 

“[This] highlights decades of neglect and underinvestment in mental health services in our country,” he commented. 

He has urged South Africans to be on the lookout for symptoms of serious mental health issues and pointed out that these symptoms could include trouble sleeping, irritability, no longer enjoying activities that once made you happy, trouble maintaining relationships with loved ones, and substance abuse.

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If you're based in South Africa and would like to talk to someone about mental health support, you can reach out to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group here

While focusing on physical health during the pandemic is crucial, it is also important to take care of our mental health. You can take action here and help to decrease the impact that COVID-19 currently has on mental health around the world.