Is SA's crime driving us insane?

Suthentira Govender Senior reporter
A report in the latest edition of Wits University's research magazine Curios.ty. looks at why South Africans live in constant fear.
A report in the latest edition of Wits University's research magazine Curios.ty. looks at why South Africans live in constant fear.
Image: Chayantorn Tongmorn / 123rf

South Africans are being drained of their mental energy because they are preoccupied with safety, especially at home.

This is according to a report in the latest edition of Wits University's research magazine, Curios.ty.

According to Prof Gillian Eagle, from the university's psychology department, “merely hearing or reading about a violent crime is traumatic and builds up over time”, particularly in a violent society like SA's. “The majority of South Africans are thus preoccupied with safety, especially at home, which means that mental energy is not used in meaningful and productive ways.”

Eagle warned in the report that South Africans constantly feeling under threat of attack could have “serious physical and psychological consequences, such as chronic anxiety”.

The latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, according to Eagle, includes the classification of people who have witnessed trauma or who believe they are at risk of attack.

She said there was no doubt that vicarious trauma is “indeed trauma”.

Eagle added in the report that traumatic events like a pandemic, SA being downgraded, load-shedding and the escalating rate of unemployment were possible threats to South Africans' sense of safety.

She found that ordinary people and even neighbours may worsen trauma.

Eagle told Curios.ty. that she had spoken to a woman who was “violently mugged”.

“Her distress wasn't so much focused on the actual event, but on people's responses — no-one helped and some even laughed.

“It's a kind of betrayal that no-one cares to intervene on your behalf,” said Eagle.

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