South Africans are being drained of their mental energy because they are preoccupied with safety, especially at home.
This is according to a report in the latest edition of Wits University’s research magazine, Curios.ty.
Why would a reasonable person stay in a country where 58 murders occur each day, femicide is about 2.5 times higher than anywhere else in the world?
Where Zuma-era political meddling and corruption crippled the economy and tore apart the social fabric?
The psychological toll of the real and perceived problems in this country cuts across race, class and gender lines.
The first nationally-representative study to gauge the country’s psyche, the South African Stress and Health Study (SASH), conducted between 2002 and 2004, although still relevant today, revealed that 75% of South Africans experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives and many were exposed to multiple traumas. ‘Lifetime prevalence’ of co-existing psychological disorders (such as anxiety with depression) was high.
Findings show the ordinary person’s everyday life was literally driving them to drink, with alcohol and substance use disorders higher than all other psychiatric conditions.
Professor Gillian Eagle in the Wits Psychology Department says merely hearing or reading about a violent crime is traumatic, and builds up over time, especially in South Africa where something horrific happens daily.
“The majority of South Africans are thus preoccupied with safety, especially at home, which means that mental energy is not used in meaningful and productive ways. The feeling of being under constant threat of attack has serious physical and psychological consequences, such as chronic anxiety,” says Eagle.
She notes that when people travel to places where they are able to safely walk the streets, they suddenly become aware of the angst they carry, and how their level of alertness is abnormal.
“In the latest DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it includes the classification of people who have witnessed trauma or who believe they are at risk of attack. There’s no doubt that ‘vicarious’ trauma is indeed trauma.”
Eagle added in the report that traumatic events like a pandemic, SA being downgraded, load-shedding and the escalating rate of unemployment were possible threats to South Africans’ sense of safety.