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Lockdown and Covid-19 risk affected Soweto residents’ mental health, study shows

Lockdown leads to depression
Written by Nelisiwe Msomi

A new study shows the mental toll of the Covid-19 pandemic. Residents in Soweto displayed symptoms of depression, directly linked to their perception of risk to contracting the coronavirus.

Some Soweto perception of their risk of contracting Covid-19 had a significant impact on their mental health, a new study found.

The national lockdown introduced serious mental health threats to a country where already one in three people could develop a psychiatric disorder, according to a study published in the journal of Psychological Medicine by the University of Cambridge. Researchers interviewed 957 adults living in Soweto.

They conducted interviews in two waves between August 2019 and March 2020 and again during the first six weeks of the lockdown . They assessed the relationship between perceived risk of contracting Covid-19 and depression in this second wave of interviews, from late March to early May.

The study found that adults with a severe history of childhood trauma showed worse symptoms of depression due to greater Covid-19 risk perception. A lack of access to mental health resources exacerbated this perception of risk and correlating depression.

The effects of impact or risk of the virus

While the majority of interviewees did not think Covid-19 affected their mental health, both the data and what people said about its impact on their lives suggested otherwise.

Just over 14% of those surveyed were found to be at risk of depression. About 20% indicated that Covid-19 gave them a deep sense of worry or anxiety, leading them to “thinking too much” about the virus and its impact.

“While participants believed that the pandemic did not affect their mental health or their ‘mind,’ the strong relationship between perceived risk and depressive symptoms raises the concern that they may not be aware of the potential threats to their mental health during Covid-19,” said Dr. Andrew Wooyoung Kim, who co-directed the study.

Researchers also found a link between interviewees’ knowledge of the virus and the state of their mental health. The findings show a direct relationship between being well informed of Covid-19 prevention methods and depressive symptoms.

Knowing the risk factors made some participants fearful and paranoid of possible exposure to Covid-19. This was especially pronounced with people who were related to or had frequent contact with essential workers, who were at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Many of the participants who had knowledge of the virus found their anxieties accelerated when they were unable to prevent their risk of being exposed to it. For example, a lot of the people who were surveyed reported that their neighbours and community members did not adhere to the lockdown restrictions.

Access to mental health care

The study’s authors say their findings show the need for access to mental health care services in the township.

“This discrepancy may be due to different ideas of mental health, including mental health stigma,” said Kim.

Kim notes that pre-existing conditions like hunger and violence may have played a role in the impact of the state of participants mental health. An overburdened healthcare system, a high prevalence of the chronic and infectious disease, and alarming rates of poverty and unemployment are all such conditions.

“Our study re-emphasises the importance of prioritising and provisioning accessible mental health resources for resource-limited communities in Soweto and across South Africa,” Kim added. — Health-e News

About the author

Nelisiwe Msomi