a Johannesburg domestic worker is one of the thousands of South Africans who have been able to transform their lives thanks to Panda, an app offering free mental health advice.
Khety was walking to her usual taxi rank when she was attacked at gunpoint by a group of men. The experience left her feeling emotionally crippled: unable to stop seeing the attack playing out in her mind daily, she was afraid every time she saw a group of people, especially men.
“At times, I felt like I couldn’t bring myself to cross the road. I was so scared that the same thing would happen.”
Realizing that the trauma had impacted Khety’s quality of life, to the point where every day felt like an enormous battle, her employer recommended she consult a counselor on Panda app (www.joinpanda.com).
“At first, I didn’t want to try – I didn’t think anything could help me,”
But, working with Dr Anne Govender, a psychologist and life coach for the Join Panda app, she learned how to reframe the incident so that she felt more empowered – and thus moved from a powerless victim to someone who has agency over their own life.
“Dr Anne told me to imagine the scene as a movie. I saw all of us as characters in this movie, but when I imagined myself, I saw that I am not as helpless as I thought. I have control over my life. Yes, what happened to me was terrible, but I am alive – and that in itself is a triumph.”
Dr Govender says that it was essential for Khety to regain control.
“Khety has no option but to take the same route to the taxi rank every day – otherwise she can’t get to work. If she hadn’t been able to see her experience from a different perspective, one which put her in a place of control, she would have been consumed by anxiety, to the point where the thought of taking a taxi may have left her incapacitated. The ripple effects are unthinkable – if she couldn’t muster the courage to get transport, she wouldn’t have been able to go to work. The loss of income would have had a terrible impact on her family.”
Dr. Govender’s main concern was to empower Khety. She says that her approach while consulting via the Join Panda app hinges on helping people harness their inner strength so that they are able to take charge of their lives once more.
“I believe that the most effective way of breaking a trauma ‘loop’ – the phenomenon where you find yourself unable to stop replaying the trauma in your mind – is by creating a new loop. Change your narrative to create a new story, where your different thoughts, different feelings and different actions result in more empowering consequences.”
Khety says that her experience with the Panda app – which she says was very easy to use – has helped her so much that she intends to use the app whenever she next feels in need of a little help, whether it’s looking for relationship advice or general insight into how to move forward in life. And she would certainly recommend the app to other people who may need assistance in dealing with a difficult situation, working through depression, or simply finding support from a like-minded community.
Sadly, Khety’s experience is far from exceptional – every day, hundreds of South Africans become victims of (often violent) crime. Allan Sweidan, clinical psychologist and co-CEO and -founder of Panda, says that it is critical for people who have found themselves in traumatic situations to talk to someone they can trust.
“Describing the event once you are in a safe space can help you get some distance from it. If, however, your symptoms of trauma don’t settle after a week or two, you may find it useful to do a PTSD screen assessment within the Panda app. You’ll receive a score in real-time, and some guidance as to what help you may need,”
Typical trauma symptoms include flashbacks, sleep disturbances, and a reluctance to return to the place where the trauma occurred or to speak to people who remind you of the incident, even if they weren’t directly involved.
Even South Africans who have not been affected by crime may battle to deal with the stress of living in a traumatized society. Sweidan says that the following steps may help:
- Limit your social media and news intake each day, as exposure to negative news can impact your mood.
- Do something for others, even if you’re feeling stressed.
- Find a way to clear your mind each day: perhaps with meditation, a walk in the park, or prayer.
- Take care of things you can control, like your sleep, diet and exercise habits.
*full name not disclosed for privacy
Panda is a free-to-download digital app that is designed to put mental health information, community support and expert help literally in the palm of your hand.
Users of Panda have access to all the features currently available on The Join Panda app -available on the Apple and Android app stores. Search for ‘JoinPanda’ to download it and register for free.
The Panda App is the brainchild of Allan Sweidan, a clinical psychologist who previously co-founded and headed up the Akeso Group of Psychiatric Hospitals, and Alon Lits, former GM and Director of Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa. The app makes it easy for anyone to invest time into their mental wellbeing by anonymously connecting to an array of valuable resources to assist them on their journey to improved mental health.