As activists, students and concerned citizens continually flood the streets of South Africa, protesting against crime and violence, the psychological and emotional tolls of living in a country filled with such severe social ills can be heavy. High levels of anxiety, increased aggression, depression, suicide and increased overall societal intoxication can all come about as a result of the perilous conditions South Africans live under.
Trauma consultant Valdi Van Reenen-Le Roux says that each person’s response to the current conditions in South Africa will vary according to their personality.
“I think there would be a range of responses, [including] high levels of anxiety, people might be very agitated, aggressive, argumentative or on the opposite there would be people who are very sad, withdrawn or numb and full of despair. In that situation, one needs to be very careful with regard to people having suicidal thoughts or preparing for suicide,” said Van Reenen-Le Roux.
“Some people turn to God and pray more while others turn to sport and that helps them to move through the process. Then there are people who turn to negative coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol or abusing medication.”
Van Reenen-Le Roux urges community members to take care of one another and to maintain strong support systems both at home and in schools. She also explained that these strong support systems are important for us to take care of people who turn to negative coping mechanisms, as they are not always able to see their shortfalls and the wrongs in their ways. At times, these individuals need others to recognise what they are going through before they can take more positive steps toward coping.
“It’s important that we take care of each other within our homes and our communities and also to take care of ourselves,” she said.
“Constantly hearing about murders can be quite taxing and frightening. It is better to focus on how you can build resilience, rather than to hope that social ills will go away overnight.”
“It is also crucial that caregivers at schools are extremely supportive to our kids. We need to teach our kids in very subtle but firm and direct ways about safety – who they do and don’t talk to and about who gives them gifts and so forth. We unfortunately often focus on our young toddlers and children at primary schools and tend to forget that our high school and out-of-school youth are as vulnerable…we tend to think that the youth are able to stand on their own feet but sometimes they are not.”
“How parents support their children and how children support their parents is key. Even as parents, we are as anxious for our own lives, so there has to be an [immediate] family approach, extended family approach and a community approach to safety and violence prevention.”