South Africa moved to alert level stage one of the COVID-19 lockdown this week following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that the country has successfully overcome the worst of the global pandemic. In his address to the nation on Wednesday, 16 September, President Ramaphosa announced that more than 15,000 people lost their lives to the disease that has infected more than 650,000 South Africans. Last week the Department of Health released a statement predicting that about 12 million South Africans in total could have been infected with COVID-19 which translates to about 20% of the population. It is a known fact that the pandemic has impacted the psychological wellbeing of people all over the world, however, elaborate studies on the long-term and short-term mental health effects of the virus are needed to understand the extent of which people we affected (Lancet Psychiatry, 2020).
The move to alert level one means a further relaxation of the strict regulations which were put in place to contain the viral spread such as a complete halt on most economic and social activities. While most of the activities resumed to a minimum under level two, level one will see to an almost total resumption of all normal activities including public gatherings and leisure travel domestically and internationally. This also comes with individual responsibility, as complacency while the virus is still present around is dangerous. People are still encouraged to remember to adhere to physical distancing as part of the measures to avoid a resurge in the virus, however, avoiding close physical constant does not prevent people from maintaining emotional connections.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) which is the largest national mental health organisation in South Africa has joined the Mind the Gap-South Africa Campaign that is launching today in order to raise awareness on physical distancing and social solidarity. The campaign will be rolled out in all nine provinces with celebrities and influencers sharing their videos on their social media platforms. SAFMH and the 17 Mental Health Societies (MHS) that it works with, will also share the videos on social media and in an effort to encourage South Africans to change the vocabulary from “social distancing” to “physical distancing and social solidarity”.
The main goal of the campaign is to attract special attention to those who are most affected by the pandemic and who find themselves in dire circumstances as a result.
The SAFMH webpage has a link to the Given Gain crowd-funding page where a special fundraising campaign has been set-up, to support the seventeen MHS in their programs to feed families of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities. People can make a donation by following this link here: (https://www.givengain.com/cause/5312/)
The provision of mental health care services by community-based organisations is one of the areas that have been severely impacted by the pandemic. We are also reminded that in South Africa only a few percentages of those who are in need of mental health care services are able to access such services. One of the main lessons from the COVID-19 is that this should change. Supporting NGOs that offer mental health care services is one way we are able to stand in solidarity with those who are were left most vulnerable by the pandemic.
The Presidency. (2020). Statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa on progress in the national effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Accessed at: http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/speeches/statement-president-cyril-ramaphosa-progress-national-effort-contain-covid-19-pandemic%2C-union-buildings%2C-tshwane-2
The Lancet Psychiatry. 2020. How mental health care should change as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Accessed at: https://doi.org/10.1016/ S2215-0366(20)30307-2