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Dislike of partners a Covid-19 lockdown consequence, depression hotline shows

Matters of the heart are finding prominence during the Covid-19 lockdown, as partners spend extended time together, sometimes with negative consequences.
Matters of the heart are finding prominence during the Covid-19 lockdown, as partners spend extended time together, sometimes with negative consequences.

“Mental health doesn’t stop just because there is a virus,” says Cassey Chambers, the operations director at the SA Anxiety and Depression Group.

March 27, 2020 marked the first day in the organisation’s 25-year history that its Sandton-based call centre’s doors were closed. Through a switchboard app, the call centre with 22 telephone lines now operates virtually in the homes of counsellors across the country.

Tracy, a single mom, lives on her own with her cat and is preparing for her shift which starts at 5pm. She’s been a telephone counsellor with Sadag for 8 years and says “nothing shocks me any more”.

Based on her life experience, she felt she was equipped to help others navigate their way through life’s hardships and she joined Sadag as a telephone counsellor. She’s handled suicide calls and a range of other mental health calls related to depression, bipolar disorders and anxiety. But what Tracy has been dealing with since the lockdown came into effect are seemingly matters of the heart.

“I don’t want to say it’s more visible but what is coming through a lot is relationship issues. People living with their partners and realising they don’t really like them.

“It does evoke a lot of anxiety because now we have an unhealthy relationship with someone you thought you loved. We still get suicide calls but it’s no different than before. It’s still the same,” Tracy says.

Before the lockdown, counsellors were able to turn to a colleague for advice or to debrief if a call got too personal. With physical distancing and the lockdown, they’ve had to rely on technology to bridge the gap.

“Since lockdown we’re definitely seeing more calls about social isolation and loneliness, people who are not locking down with loved ones or family but doing it by themselves. We’re seeing people’s anxiety a lot more heightened, especially as we’re seeing the cases increase,” Chambers says.

“Mental health is very real. This pandemic is once again making us realise we need to not just consider physical health but also mental health,” Tracy says.

Aside from giving young adults relationship advice, she’s also got calls from people who are now spending more time with loved ones who have a mental health condition.

“There are also people seeking understanding of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders. They’ve never had to be this close to someone to deal with it and they’re reaching out for help,” Tracy says.

Some of these people have also reached out to Sadag on Facebook through the daily Facebook Live chats with experts. Chambers says these sessions have seen close to 12,000 people connecting to the lunchtime sessions. The comments from those sessions show that people are feeling more depressed and more anxious.

Some of the comments from the Facebook Live Chats:

“It feels like my whole life is falling apart with this current situation.”

“How do I balance work (working from home), while I have a 1-year-old running around.”

“How do I get over suicidal feelings and the feeling of cutting myself.”

“I am currently right in the middle of an anxiety attack and all alone.”

“Covid-19 has made me more fearful and if having an anxiety disorder isn’t bad enough, I feel trapped with the lockdown. Panic at times. Trouble sleeping worried when everything will go back to normal. So filled with uncertainty making me feel sick to my stomach and feel like throwing up sometimes.”

The Sadag call centre’s Suicide Crisis Helpline is open — all day, every day. Call 0800-456-789 SMS 31393.

For an emergency, contact Sadag on 0800 567 567.