By Pride T Gwandomba
“When I tested positive for Corona virus, I would occasionally dream of myself in a coffin and each time I received news of COVID-19 related deaths my mind couldn’t resist but think of the same” – such is the ordeal that Malven a survivor went through.
“I’m afraid, I have no other option other than to play cat and mouse games with the police while selling my wares. COVID-19 is real just as starvation is also a reality!”- Such is the dilemma Tarie has to go through. With each day as it comes she has to choose what will take precedence in her life, economic decisions or health decisions.
While the above accounts are strikingly different, they present to us some of the challenges the COVID 19 pandemic poses to different individuals in our community. Whenever humans encounter a challenge it is crucial that they respond well to the stressor or otherwise it will take a toll on their mental well-being. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of well-being by which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
Currently, several nations have put in place several public health interventions to try and mitigate the effects of the SARs-COV-2 virus so that they save lives while at the same time preserving their economies. Whenever health and economic decisions are not in sync, stress is inevitable and mental health services have to be made available at all times.
Pandemics are not a new phenomenon in the history of mankind. To me, their recurrence warrants that we spare a moment to be students of history- closely analyzing the challenges they pose to the human race. Such a study can help us to single out the challenges that are common to all pandemics and at the same time provide us with the necessary insight on how we can preserve our mental well-being in such times.
Since time immemorial, pandemics have always been regarded by the religious folks as acts of the gods. In some instances they have been regarded as a punishment for moral transgression while in other times they have been considered to be signs of the apocalypse. Religion has always been the core of human existence, and as such I would be derelict in my duties if I fail to point out how religion can contribute either positively or negatively to our well-being during a pandemic. After all religious leaders play an important role in counselling and problem solving therapies in our day to day lives. Negligence on the part of religious leaders will do more harm than good to the mental health of the various constituencies they lead. I would want to encourage religious leaders to be beacons of hope in such times as these.
The science fraternity if not handled well can also be another source of panic, anxiety and unnecessary despondency. It is from their research and postulations that conspiracy theories may arise. In the past, they have been instances where pandemics have been regarded as realignment of planets among many other explanations. Some in a bid to try and explain Pandemics have even gone as far as suggesting alien invasions among other things. Humans are naturally curious but what the information will then do to their minds can be disastrous. Regulatory bodies and various research councils will always have to be vigilant for such groups who may publish falsehoods in the name of science. Ethical research councils should always serve as vanguards of the notable gains we have made from science and discovery.
The very fact that pandemics by definition are epidemics of an infectious disease that have spread across a large region, affecting a substantial number of people means that the health sector will also not be spared. Negligence can give birth to fear, anxiety despondency and in other instances mistrust of the medical practitioners. The second cholera pandemic of the early 19th century is a good example of a time when people lost faith in the health system. Riots and attacks of the medical doctor became a common occurrence of the day. Education and awareness campaign remain indispensable to fostering a healthy relationship between health workers and the people. Trust will always remain core and therefore transparency and educating the masses will suffocate all forms of conspiracy theories that people may be sprouting among the people.
On the other hand pandemics generally present a new challenge to the health systems, where the need for new knowledge and the rate at which research unfolds the science behind the pathophysiology and treatment of a particular infection may not be keeping up with the devastation being experienced. The people will be expecting a solution from their healthcare workers and researchers, while the later will be falling victim to burnout and stress for the time they spent trying to carry out rigorous clinical trials. Whenever a pandemic strikes, no one is immune to mental health challenges and such an insight is critical so that we become each one’s keeper.
Strong and transparent political institutions do also have a role to play in allaying fear and anxiety. Recently there have been claims that the Europeans are on a mission to eliminate Africans. Unfortunately proponents of such theories ride on the history of colonialism without realising the fear they are seeding among the people. Definitely, during a pandemic we all have a role to play in contributing positively to the mental well-being of our people, nations and communities.
Truly, as the great books says -“There is nothing new under the sun”. History can be a good teacher and if we go back to look it we may glean some important lessons that will help us to come up with solutions to the current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That being said, it should be our collective responsibility to be on the lookout for each other. Governments should be responsible enough to set up strong health systems that are always prepared to provide mental health services. Institutions, work places should also be havens of safety. Mental health should never be confined to the walls of a hospital. Individuals should be responsible enough to avoid stigma, check on their friends, neighbors and even strangers. Always bear in mind that you are a brother’s keeper!