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How to cope with COVID's mental health tsunami


Do you remember how normal life seemed just over a year ago before COVID-19 arrived? We've all been affected in some way and many of us are finding ourselves bearing the mental scars of having to cope with the effects of the pandemic.


We're looking at ways to help South Africans cope with the mental health issues created by the COVID outbreak.


A recent report by reinsurer Swiss Re has predicted a wave of serious mental health problems across the world as the outbreak progresses through its late phases.


The report states that those affected will include people who suffered a severe initial illness, those who mentally struggled to cope with lockdown or the economic consequences of the pandemic, and those who experienced prolonged effects as a result of infection.


A recent academic study in Soweto, published by the National Institutes of Health, showed that up to 20% of participants experienced anxiety, fear and "thinking too much" as a result of the pandemic. The report made it clear that the additional burden of psychosocial problems in South Africa, such as crime and socio-economic inequality, also heightened the effects of serious mental stress.


Liberty's Dr Dominque Stott says while Liberty's own current statistics do not yet show a noticeable increase in mental health claims, previous experience in international long term insurance and emerging global predications indicate it is only a matter of time before this becomes a significant issue.


Historical studies have shown that a poor economy leads to a general increase in disability claims. The deterioration of the economy in this instance has been caused largely by the impact of lockdowns at varying levels, which came at a time of stagnant economic growth.

According to studies into the mental health effects of pandemics, one of the greatest fears affecting many people is how they would cope if a loved one, dependant or bread winner passed away or was seriously affected by a disease.


"This is unknown territory in which we find ourselves, but being insured against a loss of income due to any serious illness is an obvious first step," Dr Stott says.


"It is important to ensure that people have adequate benefits that protect their financial security and that of their families in the event of being diagnosed with any serious medical problems. This includes being diagnosed with significant mental difficulties, that are considered severe enough to result in having to take time off work. These benefits could include income protection, where the impairment is temporary, and capital disability benefits, where the impairment is declared permanent after all avenues of treatment have been pursued and the necessary timeframe has been met."


She says the best treatment for serious mental health issues, where the patient has to take time off work, is supportive therapy and medication. this allows the patient to manage the symptoms whilst reintegrating back into the working world.


Evidence internationally has shown that these mental difficulties are best managed with a structured plan, allowing the patient sufficient time to recuperate, but not too long to create a 'disability' mindset.


"Although symptoms of mental problems may persist for variable periods, it is vital in the initial stages of a mental illness to encourage patients to understand that their return to work will aid recovery," she says.


"Having an income protection policy would pay a benefit for a period of time considered sufficient to afford this type of return-to-work plan to be followed."


"Circumstances of permanent inability to work are fortunately rare at this point and recovery of almost all cases of mental illness is considered likely eventually," Dr Stott adds.


Disclaimer

The information contained in this document does not constitute advice by Liberty.Any legal, technical or product information contained in this document is subject to change from time to time. If there are any discrepancies between this document and the contractual terms and conditions, the contractual terms and conditions will prevail. Any recommendations made by an adviser or broker must take into consideration your specific needs and unique circumstances.


Liberty Group Ltd is a licensed Insurer and an Authorised Financial Services Provider (no. 2409). Terms and Conditions apply.


For more details about any product benefits, definitions, guarantees, fees, tax, limitations, charges, premiums/contributions or other conditions and associated risks, please speak to a Liberty Financial Adviser or your Broker.


Sources

  1. Preparing for COVID’s long-term effects

  2. Evaluating the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

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