The global emergence of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns across the world have ushered in unprecedented mental health challenges. The degree and the duration of the fear, uncertainty, anxiety, isolation and loneliness, grief and trauma are not just amplifying a range of pre-existing conditions; the situation is triggering widespread psychological distress across populations.
The WHO has called on governments to urgently adopt a whole-of-society mental health approach with focused protection for vulnerable groups such as healthcare and community workers, children and adolescents, the elderly and women as well as those living with mental health conditions.
It’s a game-changing challenge for the world’s mental health workforce, which is woefully under-resourced, and used to delivering in-person support and services that social distancing now prevents.
In South Africa, the mental health stakes are particularly high. Psychological distress is endemic at our ‘best of times’, and mental healthcare has long been the orphan of our health system. The hard lockdown we have experienced so far has taken a big toll on our well-being, livelihoods and economy.
We now face the spectre of sharply rising infections which will inevitably deepen fears, trauma and grief. It is a crucial time, not just to ramp up the provision of mental health care services, but to urgently embrace innovation in order to effectively reach and provide services while observing the necessary social distancing.
This is the challenge facing the 2020 cohort of Student Registered Counsellors at SACAP (the South African College of Applied Psychology) who before lockdown were deployed at a variety of sites while undertaking the practicum component of their studies.
“SACAP’s Work Integrated Learning offering is a hallmark of many of SACAP’s qualifications and includes supervised practical placements for both our undergraduate and postgraduate students within various organizational settings,” says Kim Starkey, SACAP’s Head of Work Integrated Learning. “This is a rewarding experience for our students and the perfect opportunity for them to apply the knowledge they have learned in class within a real-life setting.”
SACAP currently has 43 Student Registered Counsellors across the JHB and CPT campuses and under the supervision of the WIL Department who have responded to the call of assisting in providing mental health care services to the diverse South African population by providing psychological and preventative interventions that focus on support and promote the enhancement of wellbeing in community contexts, all while observing the necessary social distancing.
Starkey says, “Prior to lockdown, the WIL department migrated all our teaching and learning online. We are fortunate that SACAP has an already established, outstanding online campus, which is currently operating as per normal, where we already offer the undergraduate WIL module online.
We were, therefore, able to leverage this capability to design and support an online learning solution appropriate for our postgraduate students currently undertaking the practicum component of their studies which includes providing our students with supervision via our online platforms.”
While the migration to the online platform was a seamless solution for ensuring the continuity of classes and supervision for the Student Registered Counselors, different solutions needed to be found for the practicum component of their studies.
SACAP’s 43 Student Registered Counselors were all providing mental health care services such as psychological screening, basic assessment, preventative, developmental counselling services and interventions, as well as psycho-education and training in a variety of contexts such as education, work, sport, non-government, non-profit and faith-based organizations.
Due to the lockdown, both the practicum sites and the SACAP students needed to embrace innovative ‘telehealth’ solutions and get to grips quickly with digital platforms in order to respond to the call of assisting in providing mental health care services.
SACAP’s WIL department partnered with various South African organizations. SACAP’s student registered counsellors are currently servicing 11 different organizations across South Africa including, all five SACAP campuses in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban and the online campus; as well as The Animation School, the Counselling Hub, The Green School, The Foundation Clinic, Hope House, Johannesburg Institute for Social Services (JISS), Headway and a local police station.
SACAPs WIL department continues to engage with various other sites to assess how they can best assist during the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown.
Currently, students are providing services that include basic containment, trauma counselling, psychoeducational workshops, discussion groups, public service announcements and are contributing to psychosocial support blogs.
SACAP Student Registered Counsellor, Georgina Dix says, “In order to continue working for my site, the Foundation Clinic, I have had to make some sacrifices and changes. I have been able to use Zoom or Whatsapp Video Calls with my clients. My site had this option available immediately which meant clients and potential clients did not miss out on any sessions or assessments. This is a great way to stay connected to the clients despite not being able to go to the premises.
The main focus, related to the Covid-19 pandemic, is supporting clients in adjusting to the current situation. It is important to remember that in-patients are quite sheltered from the outside world, therefore, clients need help in preparing for a life in recovery that includes new lockdown restrictions and protocols.
The pandemic has increased everyone’s anxiety both for health and economic reasons, and it is the same for all individuals seeking treatment. The influx of stress means that people need to find coping skills that work for them and that can help them get through each day.
I love my site and the work that they do and I am so eager to get back there and take some more of the pressure off the staff that have been working tirelessly over these past two months.”
Continuing levels of lockdown, food insecurity, high rates of financial and job insecurity and unprecedented social isolation are already stripping away emotional well-being and general mental health. With South Africa’s infection rate and death toll on the rise, more and more people will also be dealing with increasing fear, trauma and grief.
The solutions that we can find now to meeting South Africa’s needs, present a unique opportunity for the country to strengthen and diversify its provision of essential mental health care services.
The COVID-19 world is new, but you can still start your studies at SACAP in June on its existing robust online platform and shift to your campus later. The class size stays small, we help lighten your data load, and you’ll be led through the material by your educator. You also get face-to-face support from the student services teams.
For anyone who is interested in the field of Psychology, Counselling, Human Resource Management or Business Management, SACAP offers a wide range of qualifications, including Higher Certificate, Diploma, BAppSocSci (Majoring in Psychology and Counselling), BAppSocSci (Majoring in Psychology and Human Resource Management), BappSocSci (Majoring in Psychology and Business Management) and BPsych.