Trauma in the South African Environment

Press Release

17 October 2010

World Trauma Day

“My hi-jacking at gun-point, in front of my two small children was the most traumatic experience of my life. I thought I was going to die and it shook the foundations of my world. The LifeLine Johannesburg counsellor helped me to see that I wasn’t going crazy and that my reactions were normal. Through trauma counselling I was able to put the hi-jacking into perspective and move forward with my life.”

World Trauma Day is 17 October 2010, but South Africans live with trauma on a daily basis.

“South African communities are struggling with the day to day trauma associated with living in a country still trying to recover from years of an oppressive political and social system. The communities of Johannesburg (including townships such as Alexandra and Soweto) also suffer additional trauma from frequent exposure to crime and violence, as well as poverty and related social injustices”, said Lauren Jankelowitz, Executive Director, LifeLine Johannesburg.

Through 41 years of manning telephone calls and offering face to face counselling to members of the public in distress, LifeLine Johannesburg has developed a good understanding of trauma and how to assist people in dealing with trauma.

LifeLine Johannesburg (including LifeLine Soweto and LifeLine Alexandra) provides free and affordable trauma counselling and debriefing services to the public sector, and LifeLine Corporate provides Employment Wellness Services to the private sector (at a cost).

South Africans suffer from the psychological and social effects of chronic stress induced by high levels of violent crime (including rape). Through reading newspapers and hearing about the stories of escalating levels of seemingly senseless violence and crime, mass emigration, mobilisation of vigilante groups and Xenophobia, individuals experience what is termed secondary or vicarious trauma. The high levels
of corruption and harsh economic conditions further contribute to growing anger, helplessness and stress in our society.

Media Release
15 October 2010

In the context of the South African environment where the incidence of violent crime and its resulting trauma is prevalent, the fear of trauma being continuous, and happening again and again, is not irrational. Some South Africans live in a state of hyper-vigilance, i.e. South Africans are in continuous survival mode.

The “National trauma syndrome” describes a state of chronic stress felt individually and collectively that emerges because of living in ongoing stressful situations (not short lived). Current theory identifies collective trauma as being less visible than individual trauma, but no less damaging. The devastating impact of the US 9/11 terrorist attacks on the collective psyche of the American nation, and the related effects on the individual’s emotional, physical and social wellness gave rise to our understanding of a “National trauma syndrome”. In South Africa, the ongoing and chronic stress experienced by individuals owing to crime and violence has identical features and outcomes as those described by American traumatologists’ post 9/11.

South Africans at all levels of the socio-economic continuum are experiencing collective or compounded trauma (also known as Type 2 trauma) which is “a blow to the basic tissues of social life that destroys the bonds that hold people together, and impairs the prevailing sense of community” (Kai Erickson, in his book, “A New Species of Trouble”). This generates powerful cultural narratives such as loss, hopelessness, fear and anger which become integrated into the social identity.

The Traumatic Stress Update, August 2010, published by The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation states that in addition to “victims of criminal violence (for example, armed robbery, assault, muggings, witnessing murder, rape and sexual abuse)”, the South African trauma environment includes victims of political violence, and people who have been forced to flee their countries of origin, i.e. there has been “an influx of forced migrants, most of whom had experienced or witnessed trauma, and some of whom reported to have been subjected to different forms of torture”.

Media Release
15 October 2010

Gender equality is a constitutional imperative in South Africa, with the Constitution providing for the “prohibition of racial, gender and all other forms of discrimination”. However, the Millennium Development Goals; Country Report 2010 (MDG3) acknowledges that, “In the context of this (South African) patriarchal society, there is a history of violence and gender inequality as women are perceived to be subordinate and inferior to men”. In order to correct this, the report proposes (amongst seven Recommendations): “Create specific programmes to empower women such as – Use NGOs who work with trauma counselling and domestic violence as part of victim support infrastructure”.

“LifeLine Johannesburg is stepping into this space to meet the trauma counselling needs of the Greater Johannesburg community that it serves. Its trauma response services aim to alleviate trauma reactions and assist people
to integrate and make sense/meaning of traumatic experiences in order to strengthen community mental health”, concluded Jankelowitz.


Issued By: LifeLine Johannesburg

For further information please contact:

Judith Gordon-Drake
Marketing and Communication
(011) 728 1331, 072 664 0950

Date published: 
Sunday, 17 October, 2010
LifeLine Johannesburg

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