“If you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill, your side-hustle started, or more knowledge gained, then you are doing just fine. Lockdown resulting in self isolation, quarantine and social distancing is far beyond than leisure time vacations for improved functioning, it is a collective traumatic event which poses serious threat to people and have resulted in great loss of lives and property for every individual”(Mukhtar 2020: 3-4)
On 5 March 2020 the first Covid 19 case was reported in South Africa, a family who returned from a vacation abroad and on 23 March 2020 our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, announced a 21 day national lockdown. As an introvert I smiled and thought, just what I need 21 days to recharge but the realization soon came that this will not be my long anticipated sabbatical, as the late professor Adam Small used to say “no man is an island”. I soon realized that I also need my human fix.
As private practitioner I calculated that my practice will be able to withstand the 21 days of hard lockdown and I took my practice online but my client system was not ready for this. I re-opened my practice on 18 May 2020 with no influx of clients. My saving grace was that I started a vegetable garden during the first week of lockdown, the reading of journal articles regarding the impact of Covid 19 on mental health and I offered pro bono services to individuals and NGO’s. I am also meeting with private practitioners online every Friday at 10:00, and the purpose of this engagement is to share best practice models and to render support. The sentiments of all of us in private practice is that mental health-, relationship-, child protection- and substance abuse issues will be in demand due to lockdown and social distancing.
Outbreaks of Severe Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Spanish Flu and Ebola had disastrous impacts on individuals, families, communities and the world at large. In this digital age humankind has always known what to do next but Covid 19 brought them face to face with a conundrum, how to live with oneself (Banerjee & Rai 2020:1). Kang et al (2020) as cited in Mukhtar (2020:4) states that several authors predicted the impact of the pandemic on the psychological health of the vulnerable but also the general public.
The pandemic is causing psychosocial health concerns that include stress, distress, fear, anxiety, depressive symptoms, sleep disturbances, denial, anger, frustration and mistrust (Mukhtar 2020 & Rana et al 2020 as cited in Mukhtar 2020:4).
Past studies of epidemics has proved psychosocial consequences in the affected individuals and the general population. Covid 19 might evolve into long lasting health problems due to feelings of vulnerability, isolation, quarantine, fear, anxiety, psychological distress, psychological stressors, post traumatic symptoms, stigma and xenophobia (Mukhtar 2020:4). Banerjee & Rai (2020:1) echoes this by stating that the affected and suspicious cases are isolated and that this isolation leads to loneliness and boredom, and if long enough can have disastrous effects on their physical and mental wellbeing.
Mukhtar (2020) and Mowbray (2020) as cited in Mukhtar (2020:4) is of the opinion that during a shared community based crisis people will be selective in looking for related information in an attempt to attain the illusion of control to combat their uncertainty and fear, which lead to anxiety, distorted perception of risk due to misinformation and disinformation on social media. This leads to extreme fear for the unknown and public panic may lead to stigmatization, marginalization and scapegoats.
What psychological first aid is needed to mitigate some of the risks identified by the experts?
According to Banerjee & Rai (2020:2) is the transformation of loneliness into solitude key during isolation and lockdown, loneliness is an emotion full of fear and desolation while solitude is full of peace and tranquility. The maintenance of interpersonal relationships while in lockdown. Social media detoxification or -distancing will be beneficial because the information overload can cause an “infodemic” that spreads faster than the virus itself. This does not mean that we do not use social media but that we mange what we consume online, because we use technology to maintain sound interpersonal relationships with family, friends and as some of us migrated our business offerings online.
In my practice I focus on the following aspects in supporting clients during this period.
- Personal experiences regarding the impact of Covid 19 and lockdown, this is not a doom and gloom session we focus on own realities and experiences.
- The locus of control (internal vs external).
- Structure, structure, structure…
- Common humanity & altruism
On a practical level, unpacking the above mentioned will focus on the following:
- What helped in the past addressing a personal crisis?
- Acknowledge uncertainty and fear and normalize stress reactions.
- Focus on what I can control.
- Creation of a safety net, family-, peer- and professional support.
- Services to others.
- Practical breathing and mindfulness activities.
As mentioned my services are available online and face-to-face (with screening protocols in place), and you are invited to visit my Facebook page and website to have a look at my services and to book your first session.
Banerjee, B., Rai, M. (2020). Social isolation in Covid-19: The impact of loneliness.
International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 1-3.
Mukhtar, S. (2020). Psychological health during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic
outbreak. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 1-5.