Young people, health workers battling to cope during lockdown, says Sadag

The NGO said that since January it had been inundated with calls, messages, and online communication from desperate people seeking help and advice.


JOHANNESBURG - With Thursday marking World Suicide Prevention Day, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) said that the volume of calls to its helpline had doubled amid the coronavirus pandemic with an average of 1,400 people reaching out every day.

The NGO said that since January it had been inundated with calls, messages and online communication from desperate people seeking help and advice.

Operations director at Sadag, Cassey Chambers, said that the organisation’s volunteers were fielding calls from people in desperate need of help.

Many people were battling to cope, and some had considered ending their lives.

Chambers said they also received calls from very young people.

“We have people who call us who are actively trying to end their lives. Overdosing on tablets trying to end their lives, and our counsellors come in and offer crisis intervention in that moment of need where we are getting ambulances, emergency services, [and] hospital beds,” she said.

Medical professionals were also feeling the impact of anxiety and depression in the middle of the global health crisis and were also reaching out.

“We have received over 600 calls from various health workers reaching out for help, including doctors,” Chambers said.

Chambers said it was still difficult for many people to ask for help due to the stigma around mental illness.

Sadag said that lockdown regulations had forced people into isolation and removed their usual support networks, which often resulted in overwhelming loneliness.

The organisation said it had received over 55,000 calls to its suicide helpline this year alone.

Chambers said that their helpline volunteers were receiving calls from people from different ages seeking help, including parents who had noticed signs of depression in children as young as seven, as a result of the lockdown.

“Children aren’t immune, they’re also affected. They need extra support to help them to understand what’s going on and process what’s happening around them. And don’t overestimate the fact that they can just cope or get on with it. Have a conversation and find out how your child is really feeling or thinking,” she said.

In August, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize told Parliament that close to 1,800 people took their lives in the first four months of the lockdown.

Lori Barausse lost her partner more than a decade ago when he completed suicide.

The grieving process has taken years but she was now at the point where she was able to support families who also lost loved ones to suicide.

Barausse said that there were many warning signs to look out for.

“They can say that they don’t want to be a burden and they start isolating and make plans like updating wills and saying goodbye. There could be mood swings, they don’t sleep or they eat a lot,” she said.

Sadag urged parents, families, and friends to look out for signs of depression in order to get help.

If this article has raised issues for you or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567.

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