South Africa – Loadshedding is unfortunately a part of our lives now. While there has been extensive research done on how it impacts the economy, very little research has been done on how it impacts us mentally. To rectify this, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) launched a survey and the results are astonishing.
The purpose of releasing the survey was to understand how loadshedding impacts the wellness of a person, said Fatima Zahrah Seedat, Development Manager at SADAG.
“SADAG put together the survey to find out more about the specifics but then also take that information and then put together almost an intervention program or added support system for people that are specifically feeling overwhelmed by the loadshedding.”
Even though we have loadshedding schedules to inform us when the lights will go out, people still experience shock when it happens . Added to that, people get anxious as they rush to complete their work before the power is cut, explained Seedat. The shock and anxiety is natural as this system of loadshedding is not something we are used to.
“People are feeling that anxiety ahead of when the loadshedding starts because now you want to complete all your work. You want to do things so you’re sort of trying to push through everything just before that last minute and what happens.”
Anxiety to get work done from home
Working from home has become quite popular ever since the Covid pandemic. More companies have allowed and shifted their workforce from a corporate building to their homes. While this was a great change at first, loadshedding has made life incredibly difficult for those working from home. The survey showed that 74% of participants have been experiencing work performance anxiety while 59% are experiencing high levels of financial stress.
Trying to get work done on time coupled with financial stress can be a mountain to carry. Seedat and her team have come up with ways to reduce the stress one is facing. One of the strategies is to take a break during loadshedding and give your eyes a much needed break away from the screen.
“If you’re having loadshedding during your work day, it would be a good time to take that time to be away from your screen. Screen time does cause a lot of tiredness and stress as well. During that time if you are working from home, use it for your chores. If you are at work, take a step back, go and take a walk, do all the admin that you have.”
Feeling isolated during loadshedding
Humans are sociable creatures. We need to interact with family and friends everyday to avoid feeling isolated. However, when the power is cut, many people tend to feel isolated as they are cut off from the rest of the world because of network issues. Furthermore, loadshedding means family time gets decreased because people are constantly rushing to get things done before the lights go out. This can also create a sense of isolation, said Seedat.
“There’s no family time. There’s no interaction with people which even creates that isolation and feeling disconnected from your loved ones. A lot of people also shared that because there’s no networks they feel highly isolated. At night most of the time they are using it to reconnect with family and friends so they don’t feel that lonely and it’s been absolutely difficult for them to cope with feeling that isolation. When we looked at the main challenges people were facing we had a very interesting stat that four in ten people would experience depression or are experiencing depression.”
To put that into context, if there are 10 people working with you, at least four of them are depressed or going through depression because of loadshedding. Before Covid started, SADAG was getting about 600 phone calls. This year alone, they have handled between 2500 to 3000 phone calls a day, said Seedat. It seems as if loadshedding has exacerbated the feelings people have been feeling and has made them seek help.
Anxiety levels during loadshedding
As mentioned, anxiety levels are usually high just before loadshedding commences. However, Seedat pointed out that anxiety levels just before the lights come back tend to be higher especially if the lights are not restored on time.
“At that period of time if you are feeling that overwhelming state of anxiety, you start panicking and the physical symptoms start coming at you really quickly. We always say sit down and take a deep breath. There’s this really nice hand technique that we’ve put together where you have your deep breaths but you’re tracing out your fingers. When you’re going up a finger, you’re breathing in and when you going down your finger, you breathe out. That will help you manage that feeling just for that while and it’s something that’s very helpful for people.”
The true impact of loadshedding
The report by SADAG indicates that one in ten people are suicidal or have suicidal thoughts. One of the respondents mentioned how they have sat in the dark crying while battling these thoughts. People who are already battling demons are now having to face them alone which has made their citation worse, said Seedat worryingly.
“Mental health patients are already trying to deal with a lot and it becomes even more difficult for them. It’s that cut off from support, cut off from people that you usually chat to. That type of isolation makes the person feel extremely overwhelmed because there’s no one around them, no one to speak to, no one to check up on them. The person that actually wrote that comment, you can see there’s a sense of feeling alone.”
When someone is diagnosed with a mental health condition, it is hard to process what is happening. You also have to create a schedule to keep your head above the water and when this is disturbed, it can have these disastrous effects, said Seedat.
“You can see from the stats that we’ve received 44% use that time for power naps because there’s nothing else to do. That also could affect you because now you’re sleeping at odd times. That means you’re not getting your proper sleep during the night which is most important for your overall wellness. That feeling of isolation has a huge impact on an individual. As much as we paint that gloomy picture, always remember there are support groups.”
Whether the support group is physical or online, it will do you a world of good to join well and have that support structure, stressed Seedat. Having people around you that understand your plight will help with the feelings you are having.
Loadshedding isn’t going anywhere soon but South Africans are known to be resilient, said Seedat. It is important to reach out if you need help. There are always people who are ready to help and if loadshedding is harming your mental health, don’t sit in the dark. Step into the light and get the help you need.
To hear what else Fatima Zahrah Seedat said with regards to loadshedding and how it causes depression and anxiety, listen to the discussion here: