Social media, manic news reports and panic buying – How the Covid-19 hysteria is affecting my existing mental health issues

Nkosazana Ngwadla (PHOTO: Supplied)
Nkosazana Ngwadla (PHOTO: Supplied)

But as soon as that man who landed in KwaZulu-Natal tested positive for the deadly virus, I started panicking.

The never-ending manic news reports, the panic buying, the social media posts, the hysteria – coronavirus is literally everywhere, and it’s maddening. A lot of people on social media and in real life are in a state of severe panic because they’re afraid for themselves and their families, some are even buying food in bulk (which I find a bit dramatic and selfish if they completely wipe out everything and leave nothing for people who can’t afford to do the same), but my panic is a bit different.

The root of my panic is not necessarily driven by the fear of contracting the disease and dying – trust me, I’ve tried taking my own life three times already – it comes rather from my already existing mental health issues.

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I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety at the age of 10, and it’s been quite a journey ever since.

My brain has gotten used to a certain routine, and because of Covid-19, that routine has been disrupted in a rather sudden and terrifying manner. When that happens, my anxiety spikes. And even when I think I’m fine, I can get debilitating panic attacks that make it hard for me to function.

Contrary to popular belief, depression and mental instability aren’t always a result of what’s happening in your life. You could be having the best day ever, surrounded by loved ones and all the money in the world, but suddenly you feel an overwhelming sense of dread and uncontrollable sadness. The unpredictability alone is quite frustrating.

Sometimes, I fantasise about catching the virus and it just ending my life. But then I remember that my therapist says it’s the pain and frustration that I want dead, not my life. I also realise it’s a bit insensitive to wish to go through something so painful and deadly while others don’t have a choice in it – but that’s not because of me but my illness.

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A lot of things are happening; if it isn’t our economy, it’s femicide and if not that, then viruses that have no cure. It’s all so overwhelming and frightening. I think what makes it more difficult is that whether we like it or not, life goes on. Whether our mental health is putting us through hell, we still have to take part in capitalism and be productive – no matter how bad things are.

Most times I feel like there are a million tiny people in my head playing drums while others sing and chat. It’s all so chaotic – I just want to silence it all, even if for just a moment. And with the added mass hysteria associated with coronavirus it’s even worse.

We listen to and adhere to all the precautions and preventative measures: wash your hands often (were we not doing this before?), practise social distancing, and get help immediately if you have symptoms. I always welcome minimal social interaction with open arms, but this time it feels different. You see the worry and fear in people’s eyes when walking – the uncertainty is killing us. All we can do is hope that this all goes away soon, and even that alone is enough to frustrate anyone.

I’ll admit, my anti-depressants and anxiety pills help calm me down a lot. But something else that brings me a calm I can’t explain is my faith. Being a Christian who (sometimes) reads the Bible means, for me, that I can find comfort in God’s promises.

According to research done at the University of Oxford, anxiety disorders – the most widespread of mental health disorders – impacted an estimated 284 million people worldwide in 2017.

In an article on Very Well Mind, Amy Morin said a spike in anxiety is normal during a pandemic but it is important to practise self-care during this time so that you stay mentally healthy.

She suggests that people who suffer from anxiety should:

  • Read the news from reliable sources (and take breaks from the news)
  • Recognise the things you can control, like having good hygiene
  • Practise self-care
  • Seek professional help from a licenced mental health professional if necessary.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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