Many South Africans are increasingly experiencing depression due to financial burdens and stress brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdown. Experts say the COVID-19 virus has sparked anxiety, panic and an increase in substance abuse.

Statistics show that worldwide, depression affects more than 300 million people. Unemployment and financial insecurity seem to be the most common contributing factors to depression. Helplines are inundated with calls from people who are suicidal.

Psychologist Thokozani Sithole says COVID-19 has induced a lot of anxiety and depression.

“The pandemic has induced a lot of anxiety, a lot of depressing symptoms. People are feeling lonely during lockdown and their lives have stopped. So, that impacts a lot on their psychological functioning and well-being. What I have seen as a physiologist in my practice, these sorts of red flags play out and people are suffering in silence.  They don’t have anyone to talk to them and no one understands what’s happening. The reality is mental health is stigmatised, people don’t talk about these issues, or feeling, depressed, and having anxiety.”

Sithole says there is also great concern over increased substance abuse.

“It’s a coping mechanism for some of them because they don’t want to face the reality of living in an uncertain world. The reality of feeling lonely, of actually saying ‘I have lost my job.’ There are people who do this because they can’t cope with life and the reality of life, but this leads to depression and induces other psychological disorders such as substance abuse.”

In the video, counseling psychologist Nkateko Ndala-Magoro talks about dealing with anxiety and depression amid the COVID-19 outbreak:

Online counseling

Sithole says psychologists are now counseling online and have encouraged those who need help to speak out.

“You need to take care of your mental health as much as you are taking care of your physical health. So, these things go hand in hand. So, when you feel that you are anxious, try and find people or social support. If you don’t have family members, we are living in a digital world, you can log on to several networks that can help you. And if that is not enough, try to locate a psychologist. We are working and ready to assist you. We can do a session over the phone or video calls. You don’t need to suffer alone. There is help.”

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the fourth leading cause of disability.

Depression is common in people of all ages, but nearly half of affected individuals first experience depression between the ages of 20 and 50.

In the video below, lecturer at the University of Cape Town in the Psychiatry and Mental Health Department Dr John Parker talks about managing anxiety and depression amid the COVID-19 outbreak: