We all need someone to Lean on, Newsline

DURBAN – Overwhelmed by depression, hopelessness, anxiety, a sense of isolation and, for those who lost loved ones to the coronavirus, grief.

That’s what a team of Durban counsellors is finding as a result of months of the Covid-19 lockdown, as many residents face an uncertain future in the face of rising prices and reduced or no income.

Minister at the Musgrave Methodist Church, Reverend David Barbour, said this week that at the start of the hard lockdown, the SA Council of Churches called on traditional and individual Christian churches to work together to help those in need, with different areas creating their own Local Ecumenical Action Network (Lean).

“It’s the first time we have worked together, including psycho-social care, and we provided online counselling with a team of psychologists, social workers and ministers, who had been trained in counselling,” said Barbour.

“The first few months of lockdown, counsellors worked largely with those in hospital, including Covid-19 patients and their families as well as front-line workers.”

With the country having moved to lockdown level 1, Barbour said counselling was being offered online, as well as face-to-face. Counsellors and ministers are from Musgrave, Berea, Sydenham and Sparks churches and counselling is free and available to people of all faiths who have been affected by the pandemic and need emotional, spiritual and psychological support.

“As people have lost income and jobs, we have seen suicide issues, relationship problems, and going down to the basics, such as providing food,” he added. He collects more than 1000 sandwiches every Tuesday from different churches in the Musgrave/Berea area to hand out to those in need.

“The most common problem counsellors are dealing with is anxiety and depression with what lies ahead. Isolation has played a role and has exacerbated other areas of people’s lives.”

He added that, as spiritual leaders, they also had to assist families experiencing grief and who could not deal with this in the normal way, such as not being able to hug one another at a funeral or gather afterwards to express support, which could add to a sense of isolation.

He said they had also noted a huge amount of disappointment being expressed by teens, especially for events such as the matric dance or that first year in university.

“There’s big disappointment and also fear with regard to exams,” he said, and that different religious leaders from all faiths had been working together in the area.

Outside the churches’ network and on a wider basis across Durban, another voluntary counsellor and former Cansa director, Joan Deare, who has extensive experience in child welfare and child protection, said financial stress was the primary issue facing families, with an increase in domestic violence in homes.

“There has been an increase in domestic violence here, but it is also a worldwide issue. Finance is the catalyst affecting relationships both in homes and the workplace,” said Deare, adding that parents trying to teach their children at home had even greater strain.

“Many parents have found it difficult to motivate their children and I have been facilitating a problem-solving process in the home, where limits and logical consequences have been set for children.”

Deare noted there appeared to be an increase in self-harming and bullying among teens.

Gail Schremer, social worker and manager of Kerr House for victims of domestic violence, said she had noted an “immediate spike” in domestic violence cases when the restrictions on alcohol was lifted.

“During the hard lockdown (when alcohol was banned) it must have been a dreadful experience to be locked up in your home with an abuser.

“With an economic decline, the need for social services increases.

“More and more people are struggling and we have seen more homelessness or people with nowhere to go due to loss of income,” said Schremer.

For help, WhatsApp Barbour on the churches’ free counselling service 0837317432; email barbour@absamail.co.za; or Lauren at 0737020292 email lauren.c.ganasen@gmail.org

Independent On Saturday