South Africa: Covid-19 Has Changed the Way SA's Only Toll-Free Mental Health Helpline Works. Here's Why It Matters


When Covid-19 hit, South African Depression and Anxiety Group helplines were flooded with calls. But the outbreak changed more than call volumes, it changed the way these helplines worked. Could the lessons it learned shape the future of mental healthcare in South Africa?

Kaelo Mahao (not their real name), lives with anxiety and bipolar disorder, a mental health condition that causes extreme mood changes. Mahao also uses the pronoun "they".

Some people with Mahao's condition experience prolonged sadness and feel hopeless or fatigued at times. At other moments, bipolar people may have loads of energy -- so much so that they struggle to sleep. Psychiatric medication can help them to stabilise these changes in mood.

But when South Africa instituted its national Covid-19 lockdown in late March 2020, Mahao was faced with a life-threatening dilemma: To leave home to collect their medication and risk their fear of contracting the new virus triggering their crippling anxiety, or to go without their pills and put themselves in danger of a possible depressive episode. To get by, Mahao decided to split their tablets in half to stretch their remaining stock.

A few days later, they had an episode.

If Mahao struggled to access...

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