Psychosocial support during times of unrest and other trauma

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Psychosocial support during times of unrest and other trauma

South Africa is probably, currently experiencing one of its most stressful periods in modern history. As part of the global village, together with the rest of the world, we are experiencing an ongoing pandemic, the likes of which has not been seen for over a hundred years. This has lead to periods of lockdown, social isolation and the trauma of having lost loved ones or the fear and uncertainty of oneself or a loved one becoming a casualty of this unpredictable disease.

South Africa itself is facing numerous challenges which have been exacerbated by this pandemic. Even before the pandemic economic challenges such as poor economic growth and unemployment were putting a large part of our population under severe psycho-social stress. The lockdowns came at a very difficult time in our country’s history. Many more people lost their jobs and stress levels increased dramatically.

Through millennia human beings have always found comfort and support from one another. Support of family members and friends make life more bearable and helps one to keep perspective on one’s current difficulties.  Now the lockdowns and many people having to work from home have disrupted the normal support systems of individuals. Daily routines have been turned upside down. Changes affecting the daily lives of millions have become the norm. People do not have many opportunities to share the problems of their daily lives anymore. Many started to withdraw from friends and family and focused only on work. Working hours have increased and the boundaries between work and home life have become blurred. This has lead to many cases of burnout and depression.

Underlying psycho-social problems which have been contained under normal circumstances started surfacing. Families as a whole have become very stressed and marital difficulties appeared in many cases. Stress levels have increased exponentially in many South African families since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent riots and looting in certain provinces may be seen as symptoms of the underlying stress and frustrations in South African society. Joblessness, poverty, isolation frustration, hopelessness and a lack of family support are all possible contributors to the crisis witnessed lately.

The question can rightly be asked about what the solutions are to these complex problems. How can one get the psycho-social support needed to survive these stressful times?

On an individual level there is a lot one can do to make life more bearable under current circumstances.  

  • Firstly, do everything you can to break your isolation. Make a point of contacting family, friends and even colleagues regularly. Rekindle old friendships and make new ones. Visit them if possible while maintaining social distancing. Use technology as well to keep in touch. Share your experiences with them and support them.
  • If you have not visited your psychologist or psychiatrist for a while, maybe now is the time to do so. Do not wait until you are in a crisis before you do.
  • If you do not have a psychologist, contact your GP or your nearest Life Mental Health unit for guidance on finding psycho-social support or a mental health specialist.
  • Try to see your colleagues at least once a month to share experiences and support each other.
  • If you work from home, define your working hours clearly and stick to them. Move away from your work station after hours and do not get tempted to work when you are officially on down time. Remember, you are much more than just an employee. If you are a manager, also remember that your employees have other roles to fulfil as well. Their mental health is important to keep them productive.
  • Remember, isolation is your enemy when feeling hopeless or in despair. Fight it by taking deliberate and concrete action to break the loneliness. Break your routine. Get out of your home over weekends. Go to the gym or go for a walk. Take the children to ride their bikes. Have a picnic. Join a club or hobby group. However, remember to practice the necessary safety precautions.

Use all the psycho-social support systems at your disposal to keep in contact with others and to maintain a healthy sense of being during these trying times.