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Mental health experts cautiously optimistic about improved positivity this 2022 - in stark contrast to a year ago

There is a belief that the Covid-19 pandemic has afforded people the time to question their own mortality as well as their life’s purpose. File image.

There is a belief that the Covid-19 pandemic has afforded people the time to question their own mortality as well as their life’s purpose. File image.

Published Jan 15, 2022

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Johannesburg - While experts believe it is not uncommon to suffer from mental health ailments at the dawn of a year, some are cautiously optimistic about a perceived improved positivity going into 2022.

This view is in stark contrast to what unfolded across the globe at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 when the novel coronavirus was raging on every continent, causing widespread death, illness and distress.

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But according to the interactions Johannesburg clinical psychologist Michael Sissison has had with his clients so far this month, there has been an uptake in eagerness and zeal to start the new year.

This, he says, is much higher than it was a year ago when the second wave of Covid-19 infections was wreaking havoc and devastation, leaving people with no time to think about the year ahead.

“People are somewhat more positive and hopeful about the new year because I think they’ve had more time to think about things compared to last year when they were inundated with stress,” Sissison told The Saturday Star this week.

He explained that the global health crisis has afforded people the time to question their own mortality as well as their life’s purpose as they witnessed people dying from the virus while others got seriously ill and many suffered financially as a result of the pandemic.

“Many people are now looking to live a more fulfilled life and the start of a new year has given them that opportunity. They don't want to be caught in the eye of the storm and not know how to deal with it, as was the situation with Covid, so now we are seeing a move towards more family and community involvement after months of quarantine and isolation.”

Sissison added that the availability of the Covid-19 vaccine, improved education and information about the virus as well as a less severe variant have also left people feeling less stressed and more relaxed as they kick off 2022.

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But despite the increased optimism this January, the clinical psychologist warned that there were still scores of people who were suffering mentally due to long Covid, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job or business.

This, for many, is compounded by the stress of everyday life which is often magnified in January when many are forced to leave the comforts of the festive season behind and return to work, school or the gym.

“We are all still adjusting to new ways of living.”

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These sentiments were shared by Parkhurst couples therapist Michael Kallenbach, who explained that January is always a busy and difficult month for therapists.

Parkhurst therapist Michael Kallenbach. Image supplied.

“I think this year people are somehow more desperate for help than they were last year and it’s hard to put my finger on it and say why, but there is definitely a stronger sense of urgency at this time of the year.”

Kallenbach believes that the holiday season is a reflective time for many people and that the new year affords them an opportunity to improve their lives.

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“Come January, people rush back to work and try to put some semblance of normality in their lives, and when they stop to think for a moment, they realise the possibility of therapy and that it could be helpful.”

The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) believes that this phenomenon is so common that it has even been termed “Janu-Worry”.

“Some people worry about the uncertainty of an entire new year, while others worry about change in their environment, relationships and in the economy, for example,” the organisation previously explained to The Saturday Star.

“All this worrying can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety as the new year may also see new responsibilities such as a new job, new relationships, or even taking your child to school for the first time.”

Meanwhile, like Sissison, Kallenbach believes that despite Covid-19 infections significantly subsiding this month, many are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic.

“I think there are a great many people who are suffering at the moment and putting a brave face on things,” he said. “I have talked to many people in the service industry who have lost their jobs because of Covid and sadly some haven’t been able to find work.”

Despite the doom and gloom, the therapist urged people to continue to improve their lives and situations, where possible.

“I think that the key to getting through these difficult times is keeping an upbeat and positive attitude to things in the hope that they will improve as the weeks and months roll on.”

Sissison suggested that those who are struggling this January should try and do something they enjoy and spend time with loved ones, either physically or even virtually.

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