With muggings commonplace, victims must get help – expert
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.”