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Maintaining good mental health during the National Lockdown

Author: Aidan van den Heever

Maintaining good mental health is important during the National Lockdown, counselling psychologist Mariska Pienaar explains.

(Published - 23 April 2020)

In March, the lives of South Africans changed dramatically as President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day National Lockdown to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus in the country.

Students in particular were hit hard too. Universities across the country halted classes and asked students to leave their residences and go home.

Students who already suffer with depression and anxiety may see their symptoms exacerbated during the National Lockdown, explains University of the Western Cape’s Mariska Pienaar, who is a registered counselling psychologist.

“The lockdown has caused uncertainty around what the remainder of the academic year might look like, and conditions at home might be challenging for optimal learning. During this time it is important to try and create and maintain some measure of structure, routine, goal-directed behaviour and some sense of familiarity, which might be difficult to achieve in lockdown conditions,” Pienaar explains.

She says although doing this might be challenging under lockdown conditions, all students should try to create structure and routine in their daily lives.

“Create goals for each day, and try to engage in stress relief activities, whether this be, for example, exercising or listening to music, and stay in touch with your support structures with the help of technology, where possible,” she says.

Pienaar advises that while it is also important to be informed about the COVID-19 situation, one should beware fake news which really is mostly intended to frighten people.

“It is important to strike a balance between staying informed and the over-consumption of news, that may be upsetting for some,” says Pienaar.

“Lastly, for those students who are suffering from depression and anxiety and are receiving psychopharmacological treatment, it is of utmost importance to continue taking your medication - except if you are advised not to do so by your mental health professional.

“Ascertain the resources in your area where you might be able to obtain your medication. This is an unprecedented and challenging time, but it shall pass. Our South African students are resilient and strong. Together with your learning institutions, solutions will be found to facilitate the continuation of your academic year.”

Since the announcement by the President about the lockdown extension, the University of the Western Cape has devised a comprehensive plan to ensure students are permitted to complete the 2020 academic year - with academic work having commenced on 20 April 2020 using a phased in approach that incorporates an orientation period.

The #NoStudentWillBeLeftBehind campaign, which was launched last Friday as an appeal to acquire devices for students to enable them to complete the academic year through flexible learning, aims to ensure that no student is left behind.

Students requiring immediate psychological help can contact:
Lifeline: 011 422 4242 / 0861 322 322
South African Depression and Anxiety Group: 0800 456 789
Both of the above mentioned organisations take calls 24 hours per day.

Depending on the operational arrangements of institutions, students may also be able to contact the student counselling services of their respective institutions.

Mariska Pienaar is a registered counselling psychologist and holds a Master’s in Counselling Psychology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Currently, she is conducting her PhD studies in Psychology at the University of the Western Cape. She has held the position of lecturer in the UWC Department of Psychology since 2012, where she teaches at undergraduate, honours, and master’s levels.

To contribute to the #NoStudentWillBeLeftBehind campaign, click on the link: https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/nswblb

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