Webinar on Psychosocial Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown
A webinar on the psychosocial effects of the current COVID-19 lockdown was hosted by UKZN’s Corporate Relations Division, the first in a series of online presentations which will use the Zoom meeting platform.
In the webinar, the John Langalibalele Dube Chair in Rural Education at UKZN, Professor Relebohile Moletsane, focused on the plight of victims of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) during the lockdown period, saying that the police received over 2 300 calls from the public reporting incidences of GBV in just the first week. ‘The lockdown spells doom for the victims of GBV in various homes across the country,’ said Moletsane, adding that many more sufferers - including girls, women and gender non-conforming people - would have been unable to file reports with the authorities.
She said strategies have been put in place by the Department of Social Development’s GBV Command Centre including a call centre emergency line 0800 428 428, alternately the word Help could be sent by sms to 31531 or a “Please Call Me” could be sent to *120*7867# Moletsane added that the deaf community could use the Skype facility: @helpmegbv to call for help.
She warned that the lockdown responses left a large section of the population uncatered for, as the responses were only helpful to victims with access to technology, the internet and data.
Moletsane said more creative strategies were needed and she suggested using code words in times of danger, suggesting that the police and army be trained to listen and respond to cries for help while on patrol.
Acting Dean and Head of the School of Applied Human Sciences Professor Nirmala Gopal said while a “medical lens” was often used to look at the effects of COVID-19, it was important to remember the ‘huge impact on the psychological and social well-being of our citizens, and, in particular, the more vulnerable groups such as children and women in informal settlements.’
Highlighting that more than seven million South Africans lived in informal settlements, Gopal asked whether social distancing was practical for women living in these conditions, which included challenges such as shared toilet facilities and a lack of running water.
Gopal emphasised that civil society and academics needed to start doing impactful research that would inform intervention strategies for women living in informal settlements.
Manager of Student Support Services in the College of Humanities, Dr Angeline Stephens, examined the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on mental health, with particular focus on gendered issues. ‘Thus far the COVID-19 pandemic and the current lockdown have revealed how structural and systemic inequalities determine how individuals and communities respond to this particular crisis,’ said Stephens.
She said the pandemic had revealed how ‘access to material resources impact different groups differently’, and focused on gendered roles during the pandemic. She said that it was likely that ‘more female students than men may need to negotiate and balance caregiving and domestic work with remote work and studying.’
Stephens, who has a PhD degree in Psychology from the University of Cape Town, said there may be feelings of frustration, anger, and isolation linked not just to the ‘psychological impact that has been flagged in the media, but really related to the gendered roles that some students may have to fulfil.’
She said the university environment provided a protective element for students as it allowed them the space be able to focus on their academic careers. ‘Students have to adjust to new ways of learning.’
She said urban areas were generally considered “safer” than rural areas for gender non-conforming and non-binary people. She said some of the students she had worked with said that they were ‘freer to be themselves at UKZN than at home.’ She added that circumstances under lockdown could lead to students being ‘forced to conform to socially acceptable masculine/feminine behaviours that might not be aligned to their own identities.’
Counselling Psychologist and UKZN lecturer, Ms Kerry Frizelle advocated for an ‘ecological way of looking at mental health’ right now. She said healthcare workers were currently experiencing “pre-emptive trauma” as they were being traumatised in anticipation of what might happen. Frizelle is currently collaborating with a group of psychologists who are offering their crisis counselling services pro bono to healthcare workers during lockdown.
She highlighted stark inequalities in the way some transgressors of South Africa’s lockdown laws were treated. ‘Some of us know that if we live in a certain community and we don’t abide by the laws then we get beaten, whereas if we don’t abide and we live in Sea Point in Cape Town, we get politely escorted into the back of a police van.’
Frizelle said psychologists were currently seeing a lot of anxiety, depression, levels of denial, and people “coming off” alcohol and cigarettes.
Acting Executive Director of Corporate Relations, Ms Normah Zondo said the webinar had been the first in a series of public engagements hosted by CRD. ‘We need to change the “usual” way of doing things in order to curb the spread of the virus,’ said Zondo.
Facilitated by UKZN lecturer and Gender-Based Violence activist, Ms Janine Hicks, the Zoom webinar attracted over 200 participants.
Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer