The year 2020 started out with many promises as “the year of plenty”. Indeed plenty of stress, trauma, loss of lives and livelihoods. Humanity was faced with the reality of limited resources, restriction of movement, sudden illness and death, isolation and quarantine and heightened loss of income at a global scale. A universal threat to human existence.
By March 2020, South Africa went into three weeks of lockdown forcing businesses, schools, public services and all social interaction to come to a sudden halt. For South Africans, the most promising outcome of the lockdown was that all political parties rallied together in solidarity with government to fight against the common public enemy- Covid 19. However this was short lived as soon after the Level 5 lockdown, news about PPE corruption made headlines.
During the three weeks of lockdown stress, anxiety and depression crept in as individuals and families struggled to adjust to living in a fishbowl. Those who were vulnerable prior to Covid 19, were now at even more risk as reports on gender based violence grew and families were going to bed hungry, people living in institutions and care homes were cut off from family visits and even remote contact.
The mental health consequences of Covid 19 will be here for years to come as people come to terms with their experiences and make plans to adjust to the new normal. Greater investment in mental health is needed more than ever. This has been the mantra of SAFMH for more than a decade, as we strengthened our awareness and advocacy programmes with credible information about mental health and wellbeing. The pandemic has reinforced this call to action and governments everywhere are required to act.
Whilst still in lockdown level 5, SAFMH proactively reviewed its plans and activities for the year ahead, and immediately dispersed much needed PPEs and basic necessities to the mental health organisations that remained open during the lockdown phases.
Looking back, I am so proud of the staff at SAFMH and the mental health organisations who proved their resilience as everyone dug in their heels to ensure that mental health services reached beneficiaries and communities. Our champion staff took up the challenge of working from home, despite having to also care for their own children and manage household responsibilities. While there has been tremendous benefits of working from home, we are cognisant of the mental health challenges experienced by staff that have not yet been addressed and still require attention as we prepare to return to our office in the new year.
In the midst of the pandemic, SAFMH celebrated its centennial in a virtual world launching the centennial video with messages of support and acknowledgement of the work of SAFMH. It is in these difficult times that we learn to appreciate those who support our work and keep us motivated.
World Mental Health Day, on 10 October 2020 was an extremely successful event as millions around the world participated in a virtual march, where people with lived experience shared their personal experiences making an appeal to government to increase investment towards mental health care. Our national and international partnerships have been extremely valuable as we received ongoing support, guidance and even funding to strengthen our advocacy and awareness programmes.
However, the extended lockdown and ongoing restrictions on movement continue to impact all people who still struggle with coming to terms with the pandemic and the devastation it has caused.
As we draw closer towards the end of 2020, people are tired of working from home, tired of virtual meetings, emotions are fragile, physical energy depleted and moods worn out.
What we need is a sense of hope on the horizon, a renewal of some sort so that people can look forward to new dreams in a new world. We look to government to review mental health legislation so that much needed resources are directed towards community based mental health care and all South Africans can access mental health services.
As the world prepares to secure a vaccine to end this pandemic, we need to remember to continue to practice physical distancing, sanitizing, wearing our masks and address our own mental wellbeing to protect ourselves and each other.
On behalf of the SAFMH Board and staff- Wishing you all peaceful and happy holidays!