Negative impact of rolling blackouts on mental health

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South Africa is among the countries ranked as having the lowest rate of mental well-being in the world. That’s according to the Mental Health Million Project’s latest world report.  However, a new research study by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) reveals that ongoing load shedding in South Africa has strained residents’ mental well-being.

While the country grapples with keeping the lights on, life in the dark has become synonymous with South Africa. Eskom has said that the implementation of load shedding at various stages will now become the country’s new way of life as it attempts to tackle the electricity crisis.

Anxiety, panic, depression and isolation are what people struggle with the most during load shedding.

Health experts say the ongoing power cuts are taking a toll on the mental well-being of citizens. Operational manager and counselor at SADAG, Vanishaa Gordhan says many people struggle to steer through most days.

“So, a lot of people are struggling around navigating load shedding, navigating how they are feeling, navigating their options with regards to work, with regards to school, with regards to being in an electricity space right now.”

Widespread uncertainty among the public on how to cope with mental distress due to power cuts remains a major concern.

“It’s so important for those people to share what they are experiencing. The biggest problem around mental health is the stigma. We have to talk about it. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, if you know that this is actually impacting your mental health. You are not able to sleep, your eating has changed, maybe you’re feeling so frustrated and overwhelmed that your entire routine has been struggling and you are struggling to adapt to this different type of living with this load shedding is to reach out,” highlights Gordhan.

VIDEO | The impact of load shedding on mental health in SA:

According to the National Department of Health, about 5% of the health budget in the country is allocated to mental healthcare. Leaving the majority of people relying on the provision of community-centered services. The power outages are also causing disruptions to accessing community-based mental healthcare; with counseling services hardest hit.

While much of the public interest has focused on the impact of load shedding has on businesses and the economy, very little attention has been given to the repercussions on mental health. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group maintains there is insufficient research data on the exact ways the ongoing power cuts affect our feelings and mental state.

As a result, SADAG embarked on a national research study to establish how load shedding is affecting people mentally in their daily lives. The study has revealed a dim snapshot of how load shedding is straining social relations in the home. SADAG’s Development Manager Fatima Seedat says the outcomes are compelling.

” For a lot of the respondents, we found that people are going through anxiety people, going through stressful situations and the feeling of isolation because if we look at it, anxiety builds up from your patterns of being disruptive and the stress comes from not being able to attend to your work and your normal functionality.

It becomes more difficult for you to communicate with family members and loved ones and there’s a sense of isolation and I think a lot of people do feel alone,” says Seedat.

VIDEO | Dr Bronwyn Dworzanowski-Venter unpacks study results of rolling blackouts on mental health:

According to the report, 31% of the respondents reported problematic family relationships.  South African citizens’ experiences mirror some of these key findings; with many saying the load shedding is indeed affecting their mental well-being. The outcome of SADAG’s research may shed some light on how best to scale-up access to mental healthcare services and coping mechanisms for people across the country, bearing in mind, it may be lights out for much longer than anticipated.

INFOGRAPHIC |SADAG’s new load shedding survey results: