In our Tafta blog, we write about anything and everything to do with active ageing, and promoting a life worth living, regardless of age
Do you feel that the lockdown has affected your mental health?
Are you anxious? Short tempered? Inexplicably sad? Demotivated? Exhausted? Lonely?
Are you overeating? Drinking more? Exercising less? Having difficulty sleeping?
Whilst everyone is aware of the need to protect physical health – wearing masks, sanitizing hands and maintaining social distance – the very real mental problems associated with self-isolation have largely been ignored. And yet they are just as dangerous, if not more so.
Barely two weeks into the lockdown, we heard the tragic news of an elderly woman who jumped to her death from a block of flats near the beachfront. Although details are sketchy, the woman apparently lived alone and possibly felt completely overwhelmed by the situation.
Another elder who lives alone felt that she had lost the ability to interact socially. When people phoned to check on her, she found it difficult to chat to them; she was ‘out of practice’ in terms of knowing how to behave around others – and she was worried that she might never regain the feeling of being at ease socially.
Digital tools may add to the problem
While tools like Zoom and FaceTime allow us to interact more fully with loved ones and business colleagues, they also add unexpected stress – especially business calls where we virtually allow the boss access into our private space at a time when we may not be feeling (or looking) our best.
Adding to the discomfort is the inhibiting sight of ourselves on the screen. It’s a completely alien experience – watching ourselves talking to others and noticing embarrassing mannerisms of which we were previously unaware, how haggard we look, or that our hair is in desperate need of a cut. Anxiety over our own appearance can make it difficult to concentrate on what others are saying, or even to enjoy conversations with our loved ones.
Additional toll on parents of young children
In China, these expected mental health effects are already being reported in the first research papers about the lockdown. In cases where parents were isolated with children, the mental health toll became even steeper. In one study, no less than 28% of parents warranted a diagnosis of “trauma-related mental health disorder”.
When you think that globally, millions of people are dealing with these intense stressors with very little support, the consequences could be huge and last much longer than the virus.
Prof Ed Bullmore, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said that the pandemic is having a major social and psychological impact on the whole population, increasing unemployment, separating families and various other changes in the way we live. “We know these are generally major psychological risk factors for anxiety, depression and self-harm,” he said.
Among other priorities, it is important to explore ways people have found to cope with the pandemic, and urgently find ways to support mental wellbeing, particularly in vulnerable groups and healthcare workers.
Increase in depression in South Africa
Casey Chambers, operations director for the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), says the organisation has seen an increase in the number of calls since the start of the lockdown.
“We are getting more calls from people who are feeling more anxious, more down, and saddened as they see the number of cases and deaths increasing every day,” she said.
Of particular concern are people who are doing lockdown by themselves and who do not have family or friends. Many elders fall into this category. There has also been an increase in calls from people who live in abusive households, who are worried about their safety.
Tips to safeguard mental health
Tafta works closely with SADAG to ensure that elders experiencing mental health pressures during lockdown get the help they need. If you feel that lockdown is affecting you negatively, here are some tips to reduce stress:
- Maintain a daily routine. Slumping on the couch all day in your pyjamas ultimately makes you feel more helpless and not in control;
- Get some sunshine – stand at the window if you live in a flat, or go out into the garden if you can;
- Try to eat as healthily as possible;
- Stick to a regular bedtime to ensure you get enough sleep;
- Restrict media and social media coverage to prevent it from becoming too overwhelming. Be particularly wary of false news which can send emotions see-sawing wildly between anger and relief, hope and despair;
- Acknowledge that anxiety at such a difficult time is completely normal. Recognise that we are all affected by it and it’s global. It’s important to normalize these feelings;
- Enjoy a good laugh at some of the jokes doing the rounds. Humor can be an effective mood enhancer when times are difficult, helping us manage emotional responses and diffusing the impact;
- Find things to keep you busy (whether it’s constructive or creative) to help lift your mood. Try to exercise even if space is limited;
- Especially if you live alone, make a conscious effort to reach out and connect with loved ones by phone, online or through social media. While online contact can’t replace the human touch, it is still a powerful way of remembering that you are not alone.
- Above all, you need to believe that you will get through this. Human beings are by nature resilient, with a strong survival instinct. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed.
The SADAG mental health helpline is also open 24/7 on 0800 456 789. Or you can WhatsApp 076 882 2775 between 9am – 5pm.
[May 28, 2020]
Data from China on the first 44 000 Coronavirus patients showed that the death rate in those aged 80 and over is nearly 15%, and 8% among those aged 70 to 79. In South Africa, the median age of those who have passed away after being infected by the virus, is 64.
As people age, their immune system gets weaker, leaving older people more vulnerable to succumbing to the virus – especially if they have underlying health conditions like heart disease, hypertension, respiratory disease and diabetes.
For this reason, elders are advised to stay at home if at all possible.
Whilst isolation reduces the risk of Covid-19, it can also lead to a host of other problems – including loneliness, depression and, for those with fading memories, a feeling of abandonment and confusion when beloved family and friends no longer visit. Here are some ideas to help get elders through an extended period under lockdown.
Not being able to go out, or participate in activities like attending church services and club meetings can make us lazy. It’s all too easy to sit for hours in front of the TV or lie in bed reading a book. But long periods of inactivity are bad for your circulation and heart.
Make a point of getting up and walking around your living space for 5 minutes every hour. If you have a fitness band or smart watch, set it to remind you to take at least 250 steps every hour.
Try a new hobby
Mental health is just as important as physical health. Keep your brain occupied solving crosswords, sudukos, and other puzzles. Try creative activities like colouring in and crafts, or playing games like scrabble or chess online with a ‘virtual’ opponent.
It’s normal to feel lonely and isolated when you have no contact with your loved ones. Make full use of email, ‘face time’ video calls and phone calls to keep in touch with friends, family and relatives.
Stick to a well-balanced diet
It’s tempting to treat yourself to sweets, chips and chocolate when you’re feeling down. But healthy eating will improve your mood and physical wellbeing more in the long run, as well as helping to keep your immune system strong to protect you from illness.
If you just have to have your fix of burgers or pizza, only order hot food to be delivered to you from an authorised Level 4 restaurant supplier. Do not risk the purchase of cold food or food from an informal caterer who may not be following the strictest hygiene precautions, and may unknowingly increase your risk of exposure to the virus.
Take the necessary personal precautions
It is your personal responsibility to ensure that you follow the recommended guidelines for preventing Covid-19 infection.
- When you go out in public, wear a cloth mask that covers both nose and mouth
- Wash or sanitise hands frequently
- Practice social distancing (2m away from other persons) when shopping, visiting the clinic or using public transport.
- Wherever possible, stay at home; call on support staff to assist with shopping and collecting medicines.
- If you must go out, and need to use a taxi or public transport, do not enter the vehicle unless the driver and support staff are wearing masks. Avoid touching your face and sanitise your hands frequently. When you return home, remove your shoes and change your clothing. Have discarded clothing and masks washed before next use.
You also have the right to ask your carers to wash their hands and sanitise any items brought into your living space
Under Level 4 Lockdown regulations you are allowed to exercise between the hours of 6-9am. Try not to stay out for the full 3 hours as this increases the level of interaction you have with the general public and your risk to exposure.
Wear your mask at all times and plan your route to minimise contact with others (think less-busy walking routes). For safety reasons, please partner with another elder, but observe social distancing rules and remember that group activity is not permitted.
Once you return to the building, consider changing your clothing and airing your walking shoes in the hot sun. Sanitise thoroughly. Remember to always follow your building’s recommendations and rules.
Dealing with loss
Sadly it is likely that we will all face the loss of someone close to us as a result of this pandemic. In many cases, we may not have the necessary permits to attend funerals to say our Goodbyes. This is an extremely sad predicament and we urge those seeking a way to come to terms with loss, to speak to our support care team.
When it all gets too much
Frustration over lockdown restrictions, not being able to see loved ones, and anxiety about becoming infected with a deadly virus can suddenly seem overwhelming. Depression, even suicidal thoughts surface when you believe that the situation will never get better, and that life will never return to normal.
Should you, or someone close to you suffer such feelings, please reach out for help. Speak to a Tafta social worker by dialing 031 332 3721 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a suicidal emergency contact SADAG on 0800 576 567 or the 24 hour helpline 0800 456 789.
We are all in this together and we will make it through!
[May 14, 2020]
Three weeks ago, it all sounded like it might be quite fun, didn’t it?
Working from home on your laptop during the national lockdown. No stressful commute to work. And for those not required to pitch up for Skype meetings, the lure of lying around in your PJs all day. Bliss!
And just think how much you could get done in these few weeks away from the office! Finally, some quiet time to set goals and plan strategy for the rest of the year. Maybe brush up on skills with an online course or some serious reading. Or even turn those vague ideas in the back of your mind into an income generating side hustle.
Welcome to reality
Your kids are at home too. You love them, of course you do. But who can honestly say they enjoy being followed round all day, every day by a toddler whose favourite word is Why? Or having to learn how to be a teacher overnight, so you can home school the older kids?
And the house is a mess! BL (Before Lockdown), you may have been lucky enough to have someone else cleaning your home, washing the dishes and doing the ironing while you were at work. Now it’s all on you. Not even the option of popping into Steers or Macdonalds on the way home to pick up tonight’s supper. You have to cook. Every single night.
So how much time is left to actually work? After you’ve spent 30 minutes on Pinterest looking for ideas for kids’ activities, and set them up with crayons, paper, glue, scissors, you might be able to quickly check your emails before the kids start whining for snacks. Or sibling wars break out.
Now it’s time for your online meeting – but your toddler chooses this moment to sit at your feet screaming for attention. You get the dinner on and wash dishes whilst keenly aware that your child is on his or her fifth hour of screen time for the day.
And when finally everyone is fed, bathed and safely in bed, and all the mess tidied away, you find yourself back at the computer desperately trying to do your job. Because you’re lucky to even have a job.
The truth is that no one can do it all. That’s why on regular days, there were others handling their jobs whilst you stuck with yours.
Don’t beat yourself up
Don’t expect too much of yourself in these anxious and stressful weeks. Just do the best you can. It won’t be forever. And when it’s all over, we’ll appreciate our domestic workers, our nannies, teachers, partners, employers, and most especially our moms that much more!
Some wise words
We can all take something away from his lovely message from the Manager of a company in the US to his staff:
- You are not “working from home”. You are “at home, during a crisis, trying to work”.
- Your personal physical, mental and emotional health is extremely important right now. Take care of yourself.
- You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
- Be kind to yourself and don’t judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
- Be kind to others and don’t judge them on how they are coping based on how you are coping.
- Success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.
[April 20, 2020]
In South Africa, we celebrate Human Rights Day with a public holiday on 21 March. This marks the day of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, when 69 people were killed (29 of them children) while protesting the pass laws of the apartheid era (pictured above).
Since then, South Africa has made great strides forward. We have freedoms protected by the constitution and laws promoting equality and individual rights. But those laws can be difficult to enforce.
First in the world
For example, our constitution was the first in the world to prohibit unfair discrimination based on sexual orientation. And yet people continue to be attacked and murdered for being, or suspected of being, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Gender based violence is another blot on our human rights record. Every day in South Africa, a reported 114 women and girls are raped; when you think that this doesn’t include the hundreds more who don’t report attacks, you realise that we still have a long way to go in terms of protecting women’s rights.
Freedom of Expression
We all have the right to freedom of expression. But that comes with the responsibility to respect the rights of others; our right to freedom of expression cannot be used to hurt others. Hate speech, whether to someone’s face or venting on social media, will get you into all sorts of trouble.
According to the constitution, all children have the right to education. But many children from disadvantaged families aren’t going to school because their parents can’t afford school fees, uniforms or transport.
Or because they don’t have parents.
Child only households are common in our country – a legacy of the AIDS pandemic – with older children dropping out of school to look after younger siblings, or to earn money for food. When you add the right of everyone to health care services, sufficient food and water, and adequate housing, it’s obvious that many citizens are not able to exercise their human rights.
Right to dignity
Another difficult right to enforce is the right of everyone to dignity. We all have the right to have our human dignity respected. But what if you can’t stand up for your right to dignity? What if you’re old and frail and dependent on others to help you out of bed, wash and dress you and take you to the loo? If your carer is insensitive, busy or just disinterested, loss of dignity is a very real possibility.
Owing to the high levels of poverty and unemployment in the country, elders are at risk not only of losing their dignity, but of falling victim to crime, often at the hands of members of their own families. It’s not unusual for us to hear of cases where elders’ pensions are stolen, leaving them destitute and at risk of physical violence if they complain.
This is where Tafta steps in to protect elders’ rights. Thanks to support from the wider community, we are able to provide safe, affordable accommodation, nutritious meals and care for elders in need. This is something we can all celebrate on 21 March – along with helping others to understand their rights and helping them to access them.
Happy Human Rights Day!
[March 9, 2020]
Ahh, the month of love! Red roses, chocolate hearts, romantic candlelit dinners with your sweetheart. And perhaps the thrill of a card or flowers from a ‘secret admirer’.
But it’s not so much fun for those who don’t have a special someone to shower them with love on Valentine’s Day. Spare a thought for lonely ‘singles’, who might go the whole day without a hug or some small token to remind them that someone is thinking about them.
Sadly, this is all too often the case among older people. The likelihood of losing a beloved partner increases with every year that passes. Children grow up and leave home; often they leave town or even the country too, taking the grandchildren with them. Older people don’t just lose their sweetheart – they lose their entire family too.
How much fun would it be to be an elder’s ‘secret admirer’? To leave a note with a chocolate or flower somewhere they’ll find it – and fill their whole day with the magic of feeling loved and special. Here’s a little rhyme for inspiration:
“Somewhere there’s someone
Who dreams of your smile,
And finds in your presence,
That life is worthwhile.
So when you are lonely
Remember it’s true
Is thinking of you.”
Because, Valentine’s Day is not just about romantic relationships. It’s an opportunity to celebrate love in all its shapes and forms. From giving a stranger a genuine and heartfelt compliment to calling a friend to let them know you are thinking of them – acts of kindness equal love.
Why not pick some flowers from your garden and take them to an elderly neighbour who lives alone? Or take a handful of heart shaped sweets or chocolates everywhere you go on Friday 14th. Give them away to people you encounter – the car guard, the cashier at the supermarket, the petrol attendant who fills your car. Or pop into a children’s home or an old age home with enough treats for everyone.
If possible, take your kids with you – it’s never too soon to show them how good it feels to be kind and loving towards others.
And while you’re busy helping everyone else feel the love, don’t forget to love yourself on Valentine’s Day. Take care of your physical and mental health and give yourself a small treat.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
[February 11, 2020]