CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Many rehabilitation centres have seen an increase in numbers as an influx of people have reached out with the hope of changing their lives.
Fairuz Mustapha, clinical manager at Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre, said they had received more counselling enquiries from clients and family members seeking in-patient treatment since lockdown began.
“At the start of lockdown, government in-patient facilities also initially closed, further contributing to a sense of anxiety and desperation for clients and family members alike. We have specifically noticed an increase in enquiries from clients who are currently either homeless or living in a shelter,” said Mustapha.
He added that free government in-patient facilities generally have a waiting period, of at least two months and require a professional social worker referral process.
The centre recommends that clients start with them and they can assist with a referral if necessary, while the client is also accessing support in their programme – whether through face-to-face consultations or telephone counselling.
“It’s common for families to carry the burden of responsibility and this is important to note in terms of two main points: First, family members are enormously affected by a drug problem (physically, emotionally). Secondly, family members play a significant role which impacts the outcome of treatment.
“While there remain invaluable community-based support groups available (Narcotics Anonymous for clients, and Nar-Anon for family members), this requires internet access. Again, many of our clients or family members don’t have access to such resources,” said Mustapha.
One of the challenges the centre is facing is having limited access to resources available for heroin and alcohol detox. The only dedicated heroin detox unit in the Western Cape – Ward 12, at Stikland Hospital – has subsequently closed.
Similarly, Ward 13, offering services for the treatment of alcohol use disorder, has also ceased functioning.
“It’s unclear when these services will become available again. Understandably, resources are being pooled from all sectors to accommodate the Covid-19 crisis. However, it should be noted that substance users are a vulnerable population group, many often immuno-compromised, which potentially places such clients at greater risk in terms of Covid-19,” said Mustapha.
Mustapha said substance use is a problem in South Africa, with a profound impact on the emotional, mental, social, physical and spiritual health and well-being of individuals, their families, communities and public health.
“Consequently, it’s a frustrating situation for our counselling team when access to already limited services are further restrained. In conclusion, it remains a huge concern because it impacts on service delivery,” added Mustapha.
Siobhan Alford, hospital manager for Harmony Addiction and Psychiatric Clinic, said they had seen a spike in their admissions, some cases being people who have elapsed.
“People’s mental health is taking strain and people with dual diagnosis are being admitted (addiction and mental health condition). Initially, we saw a dip in admissions because people were scared of Covid, but because it’s gone on for so long they couldn’t take it. We’ll see a lot more people who are struggling with this,” said Alford.
Megan Hosking, psychiatric intake clinician at Akeso Mental Health Facilities, said they have generally been busy and seen strong demand for their services over the lockdown.
“This demand has been similar to that observed at the same time last year. It’s difficult to say whether this demand is specifically linked to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown or not. Certainly, the pandemic and lockdown have placed an additional burden on mental health and contributed to many people seeking assistance at this time,” said Hosking.
She added that mental health may be affected in a variety of ways by the pandemic and lockdown, many people having experienced isolation, loneliness, anxieties about contracting the illness, concerns about finances, loss of loved ones and other factors.
In some cases, concerns about contracting the virus have unfortunately resulted in people avoiding seeking assistance for their failing mental health.
“It should also be noted that those individuals with existing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or mood disorders and addiction are particularly vulnerable to having these exacerbated at this time,” said Hosking.
However, the Department Of Social Development said they had noted a decrease due to Covid-19. Their reasons are that some treatment centres were re-purposed as emergency intake centres for children in need of care and protection and staff members testing positive for Covid, and the substance prohibition did not affect the increase or decrease of applications.