Could our high crime levels leave us mentally ill?

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It’s no secret that South Africa is battling high crime levels. Crime stats paint a worrying picture and there seems to be no end in sight.

If you turn on the TV, scroll through social media or tune in to the radio, chances are you'll pick up on a new story about the widespread violence in our country. This may be just the tip of the iceberg, as a large number of crimes go unreported and therefore unrecorded, leaving a gap in the stats.

The perception that South Africa is falling apart could have serious implications for our mental health.

A non-profit organisation (NPO), Fourways-based Witkoppen Clinic, which services many communities, including Diepsloot, Msawawa and the surrounding areas, has raised concerns about the long-term impact of trauma on individuals' mental health, reflected by the increase in people using mental health services during the past year.

Seeking professional help

“Exposure to such high levels of violence can lead to complex trauma and other psychological problems,” says Shelley Bernhardt, Counselling Psychologist at Witkoppen Clinic.

“Individuals who have been exposed to violent crime need to seek professional help.”

If left untreated, the trauma can affect a person’s ability to function on a daily basis, adds Bernhardt.

Even if you haven’t had first-hand exposure to violence, it can still affect your mental health. Psychologists such as Dr Graham Davey note that constant exposure to negative and violent news can have serious, long-lasting psychological effects on one’s health, and can bring about stress, anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in individuals who are prone to these conditions.

“Negative news can affect your own personal worries. Viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be,” Davey told The Huffington Post.

“Speaking about your traumatic experience is often the first step to recovery. If you have suffered an emotionally traumatic experience, or you're worried about someone you know, help is available.

"Talk to someone you trust or contact an organisation such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG),” says Bernhardt.

Image: Gallo
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