By Tatenda Nekati
Mental health is a very crucial component in a human being. It determines how we think, live, interact and navigate life itself. However the COVID pandemic has had and is still having adverse effects on people’s mental health and their well-being, especially now with the occurrence of a new, deadlier and easily transmissible variants of the virus.
To curb the rapid spread of the virus, governments have put lockdowns in place, to prevent social gatherings. This has led to the advancement of the digital era where people are “working from home and students have to attend online classes. However, being at home is not a safety net for all. Some people live in the same house with their abusers, the rates of domestic violence seem to increasing and in a country like Zimbabwe the majority of the population cannot simply work from home. All these factors can lead to stress, fear, anxiety and possibly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The effects of the pandemic have imposed isolation, especially for those who are alone during this pandemic, bereavement, stress and fear, not to mention economic repression which has led to thousands losing their jobs. This has caused an increase in mental health illnesses such as depression and suicidal ideation and created new barriers for those who were already battling mental illnesses.
Furthermore, there is also the issue of maladaptive coping mechanisms in response to the mental strains of the pandemic. For example, smoking, drinking and watching inappropriate videos on the internet can be used as coping mechanisms. However, considering the length of the pandemic, these maladaptive coping mechanisms can turn into addictions, which will greatly affect one’s mental wellbeing.
Essentially it is safe to say that the pandemic has caused regression in the development of mental health research and services, since most of the focus is on overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people cannot access mental health services due to the lockdown and this in itself causes fear, anxiety panic.
In Africa, where there is still some stigma and ignorance towards mental health and mental illnesses, the mental health endemic is going to worsen because people are not educated on how to handle stress, fear and anxiety. Moreover mental health awareness campaigns and forums have been put on hold or happening online, which can lead to less dissemination of crucial information on mental health and less people become empowered.
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on a global scale, more and more people are dying, more people are transmitting the virus, and the rate of traumatic stress responses to such psychologically toxic times can become prevalent. These responses are strongly associated with danger and contamination fears, compulsive checking and reassurance. These can become vicious cycles that are detrimental to mental wellbeing.
For example, excessive exposure to COVID-19 news and statistics and social media can trigger frequent nightmares of the virus, increasing fear of contamination and further fueling checking the news and social media for up to date information, which turns into a detrimental vicious cycle.
People’s mental health has been greatly challenged since the onset of the pandemic and day by day the hope of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel has diminished. During such unprecedented times, each individual has a role to play in taking care of their mental health and that of others. The first step for this is, that even on our worst days we are kind, compassionate and empathic.