Mental health challenges associated with covid-19 pandemic

Coronavirus

In January 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to be a public health emergency of international concern. WHO stated that there is a high rise of COVID-19 spreading to other countries around the world.

In March 2020, WHO made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic having attained a global expression.

As of the time of writing this article, Nigeria’s coronavirus cases hit 131 confirmed cases as announced by the NCDC while Lagos state which has the highest number of cases and has projected about 39,000 cases if good social distancing was not adhered to by the public.

This time of crisis is generating stress throughout the population in a multidimensional manner.

The WHO European Region has reported over 220,000 cases and 11,987 deaths associated with COVID-19. This means that globally, roughly six out of every 10 cases, and seven out of every 10 deaths are reported from the European region. In Italy, more than 6,200 health care workers are infected and we can only imagine their increased levels of stress and tension at this time.

Back home in Nigeria, there are palpable fears as the number of cases increases daily against the background of a fragile health care delivery system. Social distancing as a precaution against spread has been quite difficult to achieve due to ignorance and poverty while contact tracing of suspected cases has not been very easy. Lock down of the nation is being proposed but there are confounding fears of survival in terms of feeding and basic sustenance of the populace.

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 Isolation centres are being set up while test kits although available may likely not be enough for suspected cases. The status of critical care is grossly inadequate although certain concerted efforts are being made by the federal and state governments. There are fears of impending economic recession just as the school calendar and corporate activities are disrupted which are crucial measures to curtail the explosion of new cases. Apart from social distancing, social gatherings even religious ones have been put on hold not without their mental health consequences. The slogan is to stay at home and avoid minimal social contact to curtail the spread.

In this situation, we need to remain optimistic as this will be the key to our psychological resilience in overcoming this challenge over time. We should be empathetic to those affected and avoid stigmatizing the disease. This is capable of bringing tension into marital, familial and fraternal relationships if not well managed. We can minimize watching, reading or listening to COVID-19 news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed as we seek information from trusted sources. Find opportunities to amplify positive and hopeful stories of ordinary persons who have recovered.

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Let us honour carers and health care workers supporting people affected by COVID-19 in our communities rather than being unduly critical of them. They should avoid burnout as they ensure sufficient rest and respite during work or between shifts, eat sufficient and healthy food, engage in physical activity, and stay in contact with family and friends. Some healthcare workers may, unfortunately, experience avoidance by their family or community owing to stigma or fear and may require the attention of mental health and psychosocial support services. All responders, including nurses, ambulance drivers, volunteers, case identifiers, teachers and community leaders and workers in quarantine sites may need to learn basic skills of providing psychological first aid.

Help children find positive ways to express feelings such as fear and sadness as they feel relieved if they can express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.  Provide engaging age-appropriate activities for children, including activities for their learning.

 Folks taken to isolation centres may require a lot of psychosocial support as they feel cut off from family, facing the outcome of their illness and at times may feel stigmatized and abandoned by friends and family. Some may develop psychotic disorders, depressive illness or become anxious. There is the need to declare pre-existing medical conditions and sustain social networks.   For those who are close relatives but have a negative test; they may become unnecessarily preoccupied with symptoms and frequent demands for tests and retesting. Certain employers may not readily want to retain an employee that has recovered just as it may also lead to marital strain. Quackery practice with inappropriate drugs may become very common with attendant drug misuse as in the case of chloroquine abuse. Profound psychological reactions may occur among those who lose their loved ones while some may harbour abnormal guilt feelings for being responsible for the deaths of others.

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In conclusion, everyone must learn to build resilience and optimism through relaxation and meditative techniques of one’s religion of choice to banish fears, exercise regularly, plan for the economic challenges, comply with the expert advice and eat nourishing diets that can boost the immunity as we stay safe.

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