This mailing is the second in our mini-series focused on ‘being and being well’, and our focus is on mental health. Tragically and tellingly, it goes out to you all in the week we learned of the death of Aziz Choudry. Many of you will recall Aziz after he led a memorable padkos session with us in 2012 that focused on social movement learning.
The autopsy report is not yet available, and there remains uncertainty but, tragically, one scenario that appears widely considered is that Aziz may have taken his own life. Our condolences go out to all his family, friends, colleagues and comrades, here and around the world. (We have compiled a selection of tributes honouring Aziz in an attachment with this mailing.)
In our discussions and consultations while preparing for our current mini-series, literally all of the lovely mental-health practitioners that we spoke with, shared their awareness of – & indeed their concern about – a dramatic surge in the demand for their work. The demand is such that many are close to feeling overwhelmed themselves. And in our country, so deeply wounded by inequality, racism, and patriarchy, many many people lack the resources and space to call on appropriate & specialist therapeutic help when they need it. It’s clearly vital that we try take care of our being in this moment, of being present, resilient and well in the situation.
In CLP’s In, Against, and Beyond Corona last year, we talked extensively about just how deep and wide the challenges to our mental health are in these times:
“What we possibly confront at this time includes not only intensified rates of suffering and death, but greatly heightened levels of psycho-social anxiety and trauma. As such, this situation may call for a sense of being and presence, and not—or not only – doing and action. …
“At a global level, WHO’s mental health department director, Devora Kestel warned of another looming crisis: ‘The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil—they all cause or could cause psychological distress’. According to the Guardian: ‘she said the world could expect to see an upsurge in the severity of mental illness, including amongst children, young people and healthcare workers. ‘The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently.’’
Also in Mid-May , the results of a major South African survey were reported on by Mark Orkin and others . … It found that 33% of South African adults were depressed, 45% fearful, and 29% lonely during lockdown. An April 2020 academic article warns that ‘It appears likely that there will be substantial increases in anxiety and depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence.’… It turns out that much the strongest predictor of composite psychological distress is sheer hunger. This is, tragically, no surprise. … In response to the ‘worst thing’ write-in option, the most frequent response, 31%, was not having enough food to eat. …
“The lockdown provisions exposed the horror that, for so many people, our intimate spaces of domestic, personal and relational life are powder kegs of simmering violence, frustration and dehumanisation. …
“Awareness, support, resources and appropriate actions are very un-even in response, but this is a huge and important area requiring attention. Some people came into this period of crisis already more predisposed to psychological stress and need special concern and support. Now, many more are also stressed by factors directly associated with the virus and its preventative measures—for instance, livelihood and income scarcity and uncertainty; or interpersonal tensions from being confined together with others in small spaces for long periods; or isolation and disconnection from healthy social interactions that are being disrupted by rules to achieve distancing; or pervasive and generalised underlying sense of loss, grief, trauma and mourning in the awareness of suffering and death caused by the pandemic. All these point to the light and the shadow of our fundamental connectedness across humanity and the world. Some of it will progressively lift as the pandemic recedes and the restrictions can be increasingly relaxed. But some will remain. And some of our awareness, and the caring and nurturing that should flow from it, should certainly remain with us as we move ‘beyond’. …
“We must state the unavoidable and deeper implications of what has been revealed so that we stop re-creating, through our actions and attitudes, all the social and psycho-social malignancies that we have shown to be highlighted and exacerbated under lockdown—here we are recalling aspects like domestic violence and tyranny, but also deeper spiritual malaises of capitalist modernity like finding real human meaning, contentment, connection and value disconnected from (capitalist-defined) productivity and consumption. By expanding the spaces of life where we refuse to continue hurtful practices, we undo a broader web that has trapped us into patterns of death”.
We’re including two pieces for your reading pleasure with this serving of padkos. One, “Rest for the Restless Mind” by Stefan Blom, is a recent essay that was featured in the South African newspaper, Daily Maverick. The other, “Walking to Stay Sane” comes from Bhekisisa Gcumisa (with Nikki Brighton) who reflects on his mindful walks during COVID lockdown in Mpophomeni, just up the road from our CLP offices in Pietermaritzburg.
If you feel affected by the issues or readings in this padkos, know that you are not alone and also that it’s good to talk about those feelings with someone. Here are some South African contacts and resources available for everyone:
South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG): Mental Health Line: 011 234 4837
South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) website: https://www.sadag.org/
Suicide Crisis Line: 0800 567 567
Akeso Psychiatric Response Unit 24 Hour: 0861 435 787
Lifeline South Africa national counseling line: 0861 322 322
Lifeline South Africa gender violence line: 0800 150 150
Lifeline South Africa website: http://www.lifelinesa.co.za/
For those with internet access, there are of course many supportive, thoughtful and restorative resources available too. For example, you could check out some of these resources:
 Thanks to Dr Narushni Pillay, Graham Philpott, John Soderlund, Anne Harley, Hilary Kromberg & others for some of the suggestions for this little list and your attachments.