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Gender-based violence and its impact on mental health in South Africa

10 Aug 2021 / Sabelo Gumede (PhD Candidate) / Industrial Psychologist

Gender-based violence includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, threats, coercion, and economic or educational deprivation, whether occurring in public or private life, and that is a result of gendered power inequalities.


Covid-19 has affected most parts of the globe since its inception in the city of Wuhan, China in December 2019. Consequently, the World Health Organization has since declared the virus as a pandemic due to the public health crisis it poses and its ability to spread in a space of two weeks Nguse (2021).
The World Health Organization statistics indicate that the virus was able to spread within 114 countries, claiming the lives of nearly 4 291 people in a two week period.
From this point, it is clear that the WHO’s declaration of this virus as a global pandemic is an obvious indication of the enormous impact it has on human life across the globe. South Africa is no exception to this impact.
Although it can be argued that Covid-19 has affected the people of South Africa in various ways, it is safe to assume that individuals from low-socioeconomic demographic have experience the most fatal blow due to their impoverished conditions and lack of access to quality health care and related services Buheji et al. (2020).
Third world countries are known for their experience of overburdened public mental health system, South Africa is no exception to this fate, and thus, this pandemic is exacerbated by the countries’ ailing public mental health care system Basu et al. (2022).
Within this background, it is clear that the mental health profession in particular, psychology profession has a huge role to play in order to combat the mental health ramifications that have emerged as a result of this pandemic.

It is no doubt that the pandemic has had a significant impact on global mental health. In a study conducted by Kim et al. (2020) in Soweto, it revealed that adults who were exposed to psychological trauma in their childhood, were even at much higher risk of experiencing depressive symptoms due to excessive anticipation of contracting the virus. Naidu (2020) argues that the public biological, social and psychological predispositions of South Africa are likely to culminate to mental health manifestations i.e. phobias, post-traumatic disorder and mood disorders. In South Africa, the Human Research Science Council (HRSC) found that almost 33% people were depressed, while 45% were in fear of contracting the virus and almost 29% were experiencing loneliness due to the mandated isolation and this was worsened by the fact that most individuals were unable to access mental health due to limitation that came with in person-consultations and risks of physical contact. This suggests that there would have been an extreme decline of mental health services extended to people, more especially in initial stages of lockdown, there by exposing people to mental health challenges. Mental health professionals reported that due to the pandemic, many people in the country were defaulting their therapy sessions due to limited travel, moreover, it was argued that those who were able to access mental health services reported secondary impacts of Covid-19 namely, insomnia, anxiety, unemployment, and substance withdrawal worsened the abuse at homes Nguse and Wassenaar (2020). It is apparent that during the times of infections, mental health was often ignored and much focus was usually on physical health, however, those blessed with wisdom of hindsight can appreciate that mentalhealth challenges may have more lasting ramifications on socioeconomic status than an infection on average citizen.

Lack of Access to Mental Health Services It is argued that low-middle income countries are known for their overburdened mental health care systems. This can be attributed to the fact that there is limited number of professionals in the public mental health space, thus, with a number of people experiencing mental health challenges in the pandemic it makes it difficult for lowsocioeconomic demographic to access mental health services, leaving a number of people with untreated psychological challenges. Covid-19 comes at the backdrop of this ailment, thus, this places an obligation on mental health professionals to ensure that they bring mental health services closer to people in order to ensure that they curtail the everlasting impact of Covid-19.
Financial Insecurity
Studies have revealed that there is a strong relationship between financial security and mental health, Covid-19 has undoubtedly led to the loss of financial security for a number of people. To reduce the rate of infections, number of countries have introduced social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, this has resulted to a financial stress for a number of people. The consequences to this effect are twofold, those who had already lost their jobs were in extreme depression due to their loss of income and uncertainty as to how they will maintain their lives and pay outstanding debts. Secondly, those were and/ are still employed are in fear of losing their jobs, thereby raising their anxiety levels to abnormal state. Financial loss is also said to be strongly correlated with substance abuse. This situation combined with pre-existing mental health challenges and ailing mental health system in our country can result in a serious mental health turmoil for individuals. This without a doubt, is a condition that necessitates the services of trained mental health professionals in order to buffer against any aftermath.
Social Distancing and Quarantine
The regulations are that individuals infected by Covid-19 must be quarantined. This regulation results to an adverse isolation from one’s social capital. Studies have indicated that isolated individuals, especially in times of distress are associated with lots of mental health challenges including anxiety, depression and high suicide rates. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group argued that while there is no evidence of increased suicides due to Covid-19 isolation, there has been many calls for them to deal with loneliness, anxiety, grief, loss and heightened depression. This situation indicate the vindictive nature of isolation during turbulent times. From this it is safe to assume that the resultant isolation of Covid-19 has a significant impact in one’s mental health.
NB: The above factors must be understood in terms of the socioeconomic demographic of a country

Mental health is our greatest strength, mental health professionals have brought it closer to us, thus, individuals must make use of this opportunity and take care of their mental health during the pandemic.