South Africans highly stressed by Covid-19, survey finds

A national survey conducted by a leading pharmaceutical firm shows a significant increase in psychological and emotional stress among South Africans as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A national survey conducted by a leading pharmaceutical firm shows a significant increase in psychological and emotional stress among South Africans as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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A national survey conducted by a leading pharmaceutical firm shows a significant increase in psychological and emotional stress among South Africans as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 1,200 South African adults were polled across the country by Pharma Dynamics to gain an insight into how South Africans have been impacted by the pandemic.

Abdurahman Kenny, mental health portfolio manager at Pharma Dynamics says many people who previously coped well are now less able to manage due to multiple stressors generated by the pandemic, while those with pre-existing mental health conditions may have experienced a worsening of symptoms.

The survey assessed a broad range of psychosocial effects related to the pandemic, which affected a large majority of the population in the following ways:

  • More than half (53%) of respondents either lost their job, had to take a pay-cut or was forced to close a business;
  • 56% has higher levels of psychological and emotional distress than before the pandemic;
  • 81% turned to unhealthy food, 20% to alcohol, 18% to cigarettes, 6% to smoking cannabis and 22% to antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to help them cope with the stressors of the last few months;
  • 65% admitted to neglecting their health;
  • 52% has trouble sleeping;
  • 20% of couples are quarrelling more than before, physical spousal abuse has also increased by 5%;
  • 68% are worried about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy;
  • 44% struggle to relax and;
  • 49% feel anxious, 48% frustrated, 31% depressed and a significant, 6%, have contemplated suicide.

To deal with the stress of the pandemic, many have resorted to junk food, alcohol, smoking and other addictive substances, which doesn’t bode well for physical or emotional wellbeing. Kenny says as the effects of the pandemic take hold on daily life in the coming months, mental health professionals need to be prepared for an increase in substance abuse.

 Kenny said the majority of respondents had also had personal experiences with Covid-19 that had exacerbated anxiety levels.

The survey found that 6% caught the virus, among 27% a family member was diagnosed with COVID-19 and 50% knew someone who passed away from the Coronavirus.”

Symptoms typically associated with depression and anxiety were also found to be more common among respondents:

  • 38% feel tired and complain of low energy levels;
  • 35% are easily annoyed and irritated;
  • 33% have trouble concentrating;
  • 28% feel restless and on edge;
  • 22% feel a sense of loss;
  • 19% are lonely; and
  • 14% feel hopeless.

Kenny said given the far-reaching emotional and financial consequences of the  pandemic, it was important that adequate attention was given to the mental health needs of the population as it could have long-term implications.

“The disruptions in routine and economic activity that the pandemic has caused, has had a devastating impact on mental health. Record high unemployment levels, economic uncertainty — both locally and abroad, having to social distance and isolate ourselves, taking on additional childcare responsibilities (home schooling) while juggling work and the constant fear of contracting the virus are all factors that increase anxiety and stress.

“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.” — DDR



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