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UKZN academics create video to deal with fear and anxiety during COVID-19

A video that deals with fear and anxiety during COVID-19 and can be viewed on YouTube is the product of a collaboration between UKZN's Department of Psychology, an adult education specialist, and the Centre for Rural Health.

The project was commissioned by Professor Inge Petersen, and led by Gugu Gigaba, who, together with Dr Ruwayda Petrus, Ntokozo Mntambo and Gill Faris, was responsible for developing the content of the video.

The short video is about someone responding to the lockdown and helping that person to put words to what they are thinking, feeling and how it affects their behaviour.

"We provide the audience with an explanation of what is going on in their minds to help them to understand how anxiety works, how they can cope with it, and where they can get help if the techniques in the video don't work for them," explained Petrus. "The message is about recognising the deep fear and anxiety that we are all currently experiencing. Using simple and accessible information, we show how to manage these feelings. We can all make use of this method."

The text is in English while the voiceover is in IsiZulu, making it accessible to a wider audience. The team intentionally used a male voice to convey the message that men can also experience mental health issues and can contribute to comforting communities during difficult times.

"This was a deliberate attempt to broadcast a positive message about men and masculinity and change the narrative that only women can speak to mental health matters. The message we have compiled is not just talking to women and children. This is why the characters in the video are gender neutral to emphasise that anyone can experience anxiety, regardless of gender or ethnicity. As such, we hope this message resonates with any South African who encounters it," explained Gigaba.

The team observed that there is an immense sense of helplessness among the public and, as mental health professionals and researchers, they felt obligated to do something.

"We wanted to create something that was helpful and would add value and give insight to what people were experiencing. We set out to develop something that was practical, tangible and accessible. Often, we are unaware of just how much we internalise the information we absorb on a daily basis. This can manifest in physical symptoms that can make someone think they have the virus," explained Faris.

Mntambo added: "The messages around COVID-19 seemed to focus on the biomedical aspect of the virus and how to take care of yourself and limit its spread, with nothing obvious that dealt with recognising and containing your emotions. For us, a contextually relevant mental health aspect was missing from the information on COVID-19. The four of us were individually feeling disturbed and were thinking about how we could support the mental health of communities in a practical, meaningful and tangible way. What followed was an incredibly powerful synchronous moment when we somehow found ourselves working together on what you see today."

The message contained in this video has been positively received by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health Mental Health Directorate, which praised it for providing an opportunity for individuals to self-identify feelings of fear of the "unknown" future, while also providing tools to manage these feelings.

This video also highlights the ongoing collaboration between UKZN's Psychology Clinic and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), which provides mental health services to the community at no cost.

"Our hope is for the video to be widely distributed on all media platforms as well as sent as an MMS video by all major cellphone networks," said Petrus. "We also hope that the video makes an impact and that it reaches someone who needs help. We are constantly exploring ways in which we can make a practical and positive contribution to the mental health of communities."

The video can be viewed on YouTube: