More than half of South Africans’ stress levels up due to Covid-19, survey finds

Nearly half of survey respondents wanted to reach out to a therapist for help during the pandemic, but couldn’t.

A national survey conducted by pharmaceutical firm Pharma Dynamics has found that South Africans are more stressed since the onset of Covid-19. More than 1,200 South African adults were polled across the country, with 56 percent of respondents experiencing higher levels of psychological and emotional distress than before the pandemic.

The survey found that more than half (53 percent) of respondents either lost their job, had to take a pay-cut or were forced to close a business. Equally troubling is the fact that nearly half (49 percent) of respondents wanted to reach out to a therapist for help during the pandemic, but couldn’t due to limited financial resources or lack of access.

Abdurahman Kenny, mental health portfolio manager at Pharma Dynamics, says that in order to deal with the stress, many have resorted to junk food (81 percent), alcohol (20 percent), and smoking cannabis (six percent), none of which bode well for physical or emotional well-being.

Given the far-reaching emotional and financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, Abdurahman says it is important that adequate attention is given to the mental health needs of the population as these effects could have long-term implications.

“The disruptions in routine and economic activity that the pandemic has caused, have 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 (homeschooling) while juggling work and the constant fear of contracting the virus, are all factors that increase anxiety and stress,” he says.

“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 related mental health crisis. Due to the sheer size of the problem, most mental health needs remain unaddressed and have been hindered by a lack of funds in mental health promotion, prevention and care. Much more needs to be done to protect those facing mounting mental pressure. The psychological well-being of our communities and society at large requires immediate attention.”

Abdurahman says that, 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. 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.