While the imminent threat of the Covid-19 pandemic to physical health is currently the prominent battle, the virus is not the only invisible enemy we are fighting.
The combination of an already-frail economy, the lockdown and uncertainty has contributed to a mental and emotional strain on South Africans from all backgrounds.
A recent survey highlighted the mental health impact experienced under the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa. Conducted by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change and the Developmental, Capable and Ethical State (a division of the HRC), the survey found that 33% of South African adults were depressed, 45% fearful and 29% lonely amidst lockdown.
Furthermore, according to the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), mental health patients are more inclined to a relapse on treatment, while new cases rise due to the stresses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This places an increased strain on an already-weak mental health system.
In the heart of the Southern Peninsula, a local organisation named Living Well, has been playing its part in supporting those with mental health challenges. What started out as a preemptive response to a potential need during this time, has become a lifeline for so many more than Living Well could ever have hoped for.
“What started out as an inner prompting to support those in need of help, has become a national support line that saw many through the lockdown period. Our lines have been busy…constantly,” Michelle Wanless, psychologist and director of Living Well Christian Counselling Centre at King of Kings, said.
While there are existing support lines available, they would be unable to carry the increased needs alone. What makes Living Well unique, is that this support line offers a holistic approach to counselling.
“We have a team who screens all callers, to ascertain their personal needs for support,” said Wanless. “Once the caller has been screened, he or she is referred to either a counsellor, a psychologist or a social worker who then works with the individual to help them receive the support they need.”
Support provided to callers often includes connecting them to organisations and resources, from domestic violence organisations to other support structures, within their local areas. The team of 12 comprises social workers and registered counsellors.
“We saw specific trends emerge during this time. Many had thoughts of ending their life, while others needed support with children who were showing signs of aggression. Mostly calls were related to anxiety caused by the uncertainty during lockdown, especially level 5,” Wanless explained.
Practical, psychological and spiritual support
“We offer practical and psychological support, but it is important that we also provide support on a spiritual level. We, therefore, have a team of eight pastors praying for individuals who call in.”
The line has played an integral part in supporting the frail system in South Africa, where it is estimated that between 76% and 85% of people with mental illness receive no treatment at all (Speak Your Mind Global Campaign Report in April 2020).
The call for help with mental health and wellness support, certainly will not end soon — in fact, it is most likely to increase as we hit our peak of the pandemic in South Africa, along with an aftermath following the pandemic.
“South Africa has been through similar health crises before and the impact is lasting,” said Kagisho Marooganye, psychiatrist and board member of South Africa’s Society of Psychiatrists.
There certainly is no simple solution, but Living Well is planning further ways to support and strengthen the growing need for mental health support,
“We will be launching a five-day therapeutic, holistic healing programme that looks at the mental and emotional wellbeing of individuals,” said Wanless. The programme will include counselling sessions, art and movement sessions, relevant courses to enable coping mechanisms, as well as stress and trauma management
“We also have prayer focus groups for those who need the spiritual support. The team running this programme includes psychologists, registered counsellors, spiritual counsellors as well as a nutritionist and occupational therapist.
“Our team is supported by a prayer team, who is also available to those who should wish to participate in prayer.”
“It is important to note that we do refer those who are in need of psychiatric help, to our network of psychiatrists,” she explains.
“The crux of it all is that a holistic approach requires us treating and caring for the whole person; ensuring that they receive the follow-up care and support they need within their own community,” said Michelle.
In addition to the counselling line, the team has also been supporting health workers and volunteers who screen local communities for Covid-19.
“With all the challenges communities face, there is a lot to bear witness to, along with fear within the communities. It is important to take care of these individuals mental well-being,” said Wanless.
Living Well’s mission and vision extends well beyond the Valley, however, she said. “This year, November, we will take part in the 2nd Christian Counselling Conference since 2018. This year it will be an international conference,” she said.
At the conference Living Well will share its holistic model for mental health and wellness, equipping churches with tools to screen and flag mental health cases, as well as extend Christian counselling.
Training will be provided to help lay the foundation for community support through local churches. Once an individual has been screened, the church will have access to a much-needed referral system and connections within the relevant community, supporting their counselling initiatives. In this way churches would become institutions of support to local communities, offering spiritual counselling while facilitating connections to local community organisations.
Living Well plans to grow its efforts to sow into the much-depleted mental health system, reaching individuals well beyond the time of Covid-19. You can call them at +27 72 7532 155 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance or for more information regarding current and future activities.