Original Research

COVID-19 experience of people with severe mental health conditions and families in South Africa

Carrie Brooke-Sumner, Bongwekazi Rapiya, Bronwyn Myers, Inge Petersen, Charlotte Hanlon, Julie Repper, Laura Asher
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 30 | a2207 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v30i0.2207 | © 2024 Carrie Brooke-Sumner, Bongwekazi Rapiya, Bronwyn Myers, Inge Petersen, Charlotte Hanlon, Julie Repper, Laura Asher | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 October 2023 | Published: 09 April 2024

About the author(s)

Carrie Brooke-Sumner, Mental Health, Alcohol, Substance Use and Tobacco Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa
Bongwekazi Rapiya, Mental Health, Alcohol, Substance Use and Tobacco Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa
Bronwyn Myers, Mental Health, Alcohol, Substance Use and Tobacco Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa; Curtin Enable Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Australia; and Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Inge Petersen, Centre for Rural Health, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Charlotte Hanlon, Centre for Global Mental Health, Department of Health Service and Population Research, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom; and Department of Psychiatry, College of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Julie Repper, West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, London, United Kingdom; and Implementing Recovery Through Organisational Change (IMROC), Nottingham, United Kingdom
Laura Asher, Academic Unit of Lifespan and Population Health, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom

Abstract

Background: People with severe mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, and their family caregivers are underserved in low- and middle-income countries where structured psychosocial support in the community is often lacking. This can present challenges to recovery and for coping with additional strains, such as a pandemic.

Aim: This study explored the experiences and coping strategies of people with lived experience of a severe mental health condition, and family caregivers, in South Africa during the initial stages of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Setting: This qualitative study was conducted in the Nelson Mandela Bay District, Eastern Cape, South Africa, in the most restrictive period of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Methods: Telephonic qualitative interviews were conducted with people with lived experience (n = 14) and caregivers (n = 15). Audio recordings were transcribed and translated to English from isiXhosa. Thematic analysis was conducted with NVivo 12.

Results: Participants described negative impacts including increased material hardship, intensified social isolation and heightened anxiety, particularly among caregivers who had multiple caregiving responsibilities. Coping strategies included finding ways to not only get support from others but also give support, engaging in productive activities and taking care of physical health. The main limitation was inclusion only of people with access to a telephone.

Conclusion: Support needs for people with severe mental health conditions and their families should include opportunities for social interaction and sharing coping strategies as well as bolstering financial security.

Contribution: These findings indicate that current support for this vulnerable group is inadequate, and resource allocation for implementation of additional community-based, recovery-focused services for families must be prioritised.


Keywords

COVID-19; family caregivers; lived experience; lockdown; schizophrenia; South Africa; severe mental health condition; psychosis

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

Metrics

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