With mug­gings com­mon­place, vic­tims must get help – ex­pert

The Citizen (KZN) - - News - Chi­som Jen­nif­fer Okoye

Fol­low­ing the re­cent reve­la­tion by the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies that street rob­beries are ris­ing steadily be­cause they are over­shad­owed by other high-pro­file crimes, a psy­chol­o­gist has warned of the men­tal health im­pli­ca­tions of all crimes on an in­di­vid­ual level.

The in­sti­tute re­ported last week that street rob­beries af­fected far more peo­ple than any other types of rob­beries in the coun­try “and have been soar­ing for seven years”.

Re­searchers Lizette Lan­caster and Stu­art Mbanyele said in their re­port that there was an av­er­age of 220 street rob­beries a day be­tween 2018 and 2019, and that crim­i­nals’ “se­lec­tion is of­ten based on the avail­abil­ity of vul­ner­a­ble tar­gets and quick es­cape routes”.

They added that, de­spite the se­ri­ous­ness of street rob­beries, most go un­re­ported.

Ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Vanessa Barnes said the preva­lence of crime in SA had led to peo­ple be­com­ing de­sen­si­tised to the trauma that re­sulted from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

How­ever, un­treated trauma could re­sult in post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD), de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, ag­gres­sion and in ex­treme cir­cum­stances, dis­so­cia­tive iden­tity dis­or­der (more com­monly known by its old name, mul­ti­ple per­son­al­ity dis­or­der) and other men­tal health is­sues.

“Emo­tional trauma does not only af­fect us men­tally, emo­tion­ally and so­cially, but if left un­re­solved, can re­sult in long-term health dif­fi­cul­ties,” she said. “These in­clude ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome, chronic headaches and pain, amongst many oth­ers, and can even­tu­ally re­sult in more se­ri­ous au­toim­mune dis­or­ders as a re­sult of con­tin­u­ing to live in a fight, flight or freeze re­sponse state long af­ter the threat [armed rob­ber] has gone.”

Up to 25% of South Africans could suf­fer from PTSD and its as­so­ci­ated dis­or­ders.

Of these es­ti­mated six mil­lion peo­ple, 58% are a re­sult of wit­ness­ing or ex­pe­ri­enc­ing crime.

Only 27% of se­verely men­tally ill South Africans re­ceive treat­ment, not only as a re­sult of peo­ple not recog­nis­ing their trauma or not want­ing to seek help, but also be­cause of a lack of ac­cess to men­tal health­care ser­vices.

She said while many peo­ple who had ex­pe­ri­enced street rob­beries and other types of crimes of­ten felt grate­ful they sur­vived the or­deal, they of­ten over­looked the fact that they had been vi­o­lated and trau­ma­tised.

Barnes warned that “un­re­solved

trauma has a de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fect on one’s men­tal health. We have a neu­ro­log­i­cal ten­dency to dis­so­ci­ate or try and for­get what hap­pened and of­ten leave the trauma un­re­solved. How­ever, trauma im­pacts us in ex­e­cut­ing daily rou­tine tasks be­cause it is still af­fect­ing our brain”.

She said it was vi­tally im­por­tant vic­tims seek the ser­vices of a men­tal health­care prac­ti­tioner, such as a coun­sel­lor, so­cial worker or psy­chol­o­gist.

“If pos­si­ble, it is best to see a per­son who has a spe­cial in­ter­est in trauma so that the trauma is re­solved, in­stead of the per­son sim­ply learn­ing cop­ing strate­gies.”

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