Covid-19 is taking its toll on people’s state of mind

COMMENT

Not even the HIV pandemic or the Ebola epidemic has affected the world to the magnitude that Covid-19 has. 

Countries imposed lockdowns, bringing many activities to a standstill, to curtail the spread of the virus. The Covid-19 regulations have had a dire effect on businesses and, by extension, the fiscus. It has been 26 years since the country emerged from apartheid that subjected the majority of citizens to socioeconomic deprivation. The majority of citizens remain on the periphery of the economy, surviving on crumbs. The Covid-19 pandemic has reversed the little gains made in the recent past. 

Most countries in the Global North have reserves to support individuals and businesses alike, but the same is not true for the majority of countries in the Global South, including South Africa. 

Small and medium business owners are living in perpetual stress as they stare at a bleak future. Their initial strategy of survival has been to shed jobs; we have already witnessed an escalation in unemployment figures. Companies are fighting for survival. For those who still have jobs, their continued employment is uncertain. Some owners did not even have the option of scaling down staff numbers; they had to close down. 

Faced with this uncertain future, anxiety and depression is taking its toll. For this reason, there is already an escalation in the number of people with heightened anxiety and depression and possibilities of suicidal ideation. 

Generally, men are not good at dealing with being in positions of weakness and so some may even resort to toxic masculinities as a coping mechanism. Hence, the escalation of various forms of gender-based violence and child abuse. 

It is also a common cause that depression among breadwinners (irrespective of gender) has a ripple effect on their dependents. As such, children are not spared from the tentacles of this pandemic. Already, some parents have registered signs of anxiety and depression among their children resulting from a prolonged period of confinement in their houses. Children are social beings that, depending on their ages, naturally and varyingly would want to explore and run around in their environments. Any confinement is a punishment to them. Prolonged confinement, regardless of whether or not they have adequate food and access to some form of entertainment, becomes a source of stress that eventually escalates to depression.

One would think that teens and students at tertiary institutions would manage the situation better but they don’t necessarily. Their concerns are of a different nature. They are largely worried about their academic progress as teaching transitions to digital platforms. Like many before them, some students are the only hope of economic freedom for their families. Any delay in graduations will mean delayed employment, which in turn will cast a long shadow of darkness on the family’s hopes for some form of economic emancipation. 

These situations reflect the multiple layers of the effect of Covid-19 pandemic, particularly on those ensnared in poverty for the longest of time. Nonetheless, humanity has a history of overcoming difficulties. This too shall come to pass, albeit with severe and lasting scars.

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Mpumelelo Ncube
Mpumelelo Ncube is a lecturer in social work and community development at the University of Johannesburg

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