COVID-19 shines a light on the looming mental health crisis in South Africa

Vincent Pallotti Hospital
Dr Imthiaz Hoosen, Psychiatrist, Life St Vincent’s 

COVID-19 shines a light on the looming mental health crisis in South Africa

The outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa has changed life as we know it, forcing people to adapt to a new way of living that requires them to be distanced from their families and places of work and self-isolate as much as possible in an attempt to flatten the curve. With this comes changed routines, pace of work or, for some, loss of work. 

Family, social and work circumstances, for many, brings loses and disappointments which can lead to mild or even serious thoughts and feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, anger and other emotions that can affect the well-being and mental health of individuals.

Now more than ever opportunity exists to destigmatise and promote a culture of acceptance of mental health. “It is estimated that over 4 million South Africans live with a form of mental illness, which, in South Africa, remains heavily stigmatised. Given the fact that we are facing unprecedented circumstances, the arrival of COVID-19 in South Africa has indeed exacerbated the anxiety and mental wellbeing of those who live with mental illness daily,” says Dr Imthiaz Hoosen, Psychiatrist, Life St Vincent’s. 

Immense strain is being placed on people and their mental states as they learn to adapt to what has been described as the ‘new normal’. Many people battle with extreme mental health episodes related to COVID-19 as depression and anxiety levels increase. As such, greater focus needs to be placed on strategies that focus on mental healthcare in South Africa in tandem with the collective approach to fighting the virus. 

“As human beings, we are not designed to practice social distancing for long periods of time. We are social creatures by nature who thrive when we are interacting with others, regardless of how introverted some of us may be. This time has proven to even the most introverted individuals how important social interaction is in maintaining a positive mind-set,” says Dr Hoosen. 

Many South African’s are struggling with loss of sleep, concentration and stress with the constant bombardment of information about the virus and the uncertainty it brings. People with pre-existing mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. 

Parents need to watch for behaviour changes in their children and teenagers and older adults and people with disabilities need to be reassured that it is common for people to feel distressed during a crisis. Family, friends and colleagues also need to be reminded that asking for and accepting help is a sign of strength.

Should you or a loved one be experiencing feelings of fear, anxiety or going through a depressive episode, please contact Life St Vincent’s at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital on 021 506 5111 or visit Visit