Covid-19: Coping With Mental Health Challenge

By Temilade Aruya

The Coronavirus pandemic, which started like a joke in the small province of Wuhan in China, is one event that has held the whole world spellbound. Surely, the world never really envisage the enormity of its effects as well as the petrifying and devastating turn of events.

The buildup was unprecedented with the virus spreading like wide- fire across nations, attacking, maiming and killing in thousands. It defies established order, bringing nations to their knees, spreading its scourge and inflicting pains without bias for class, race or creed.

Life has been brought to a sudden halt. International and national events were abruptly cancelled. Prominent global festivals and sporting events were postponed indefinitely while schools, nightclubs, cinemas and places of worship are on indefinite lockdown.

Essentially, our ways of life have been fundamentally altered as reflected in new molds of salutation, social interaction as well as stricter approach to hygiene, health and safety. Now, the terms social distancing, constant hand washing, personal protective equipment, lockdown, “stay at home and stay safe” etc have become more extensive as the world struggles to combat this deadly invisible enemy.

As we daily witness a rise in the infection and death rate occasioned by the pandemic, fear of the unknown grip the hearts of people as no one is really certain of who the next victim might possibly be.

This trend has significantly affected the psychic of the people with far-reaching emotional and mental consequences. According to the World Health Organisation WHO, “during this time of lockdown, the world has witnessed a huge increase in cases of domestic violence with women and children being mostly affected”.

In Nigeria, the Advocates for Children and Vulnerable Network first quarter (January to February 2020) report shows that data on child abuse and cases of domestic violence or intimate partner is really on the high. No day passes without having a case of domestic violence reported.

Sadly, at this period, women and children experiencing domestic violence are at increased risk as most sources of care are almost inaccessible. Usually, during pandemics, there is always a strain on medical infrastructure as main focus is always on treating and preventing the spread of the pandemic.

Remarkably, the COVID-19 epidemic presents a unique challenge to the health system of many people, especially in low middle income countries, such that accessing health services and help by victims of domestic violence would be quite difficult.

In Nigeria, for instance, people that are mostly affected by the lockdown are medium and daily income earners, especially informal sector’s operatives who survive on daily earnings.

Consequently, there is an increase in the rate of domestic violence in homes as couples with fragile relationship are hooked up together at home with nerves becoming frail and flail. It is only a matter of time before things explode.

  1. with the reality that food supply and cash flow may not always be available can also be daunting and nerve wrecking, especially for families with vulnerable dependants such as children and the elderly.
  2. More so, the COVID-19 crises also exacerbated the state of insecurity as unscrupulous elements use the lockdown as an avenue to rob and attack hapless compatriots. This, of course, can be quite unsettling depriving people of sleep and aggravating mental health.

    Thus, mental health related complications are now on the increase as a result of inability to properly manage COVID-19 induced stress. This mostly results in depression, a medical condition that disrupts a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Depression results in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

    It is more than just a feeling of being sad or moody for a few days. Symptoms of depression include feeling sad or empty, loss of interest in favourite activities, over eating, or not wanting to eat at all, not being able to sleep or sleeping too much, fatigue, feeling of hopelessness, irritation, anxiety, guilt, aches, pains, thought of death or suicide, erratic or changed behaviour, loneliness, desperation among others.

    At a time like this, it is important that people with mental health related issues seek professional help on how to manage the emotional, psychological and physical strain pose by current happenings in the society. Living in self-denial would be counter-productive, especially for those with known symptoms of depression. Therefore, adapting coping mechanism that will guarantee mental health stability during and after COVID-19 becomes expedient.

    Interestingly, as the world grapple with the sordid COVID-19 reality, people are coming up with innovative and transformational approaches to life by finding fresh ways of coping and adapting to life.

    In this respect, the social media has been quite helpful and resourceful by offering windows for socialization/ interaction, enterprise, entertainment, religion, education and more. This has positively impacted on the mental health status of many people. Importantly, a good frame of mind is quite essential in order to win the fight against COVID-19 driven depression. Good enough, the social media seems to be offering this all important escape route for some.

    Without a doubt, one obvious consequence of the ranging COVID-19 pandemic is depression. From all indications, the nation’s complicated COVID-19 situation has increased the number of citizens who run the risk of clinical depression. According to reports, some of our compatriots are becoming unusually defiant, breaking public rules at will. Now, people flare up at the least level of provocation. These are all dangerous signals that must be cautiously addressed because, if not properly tackled, depression could culminate in suicide.

    Hence, those with noticeable signs of mental health issues should be affectionately assisted to seek professional help. Most importantly, it is vital to stress that, though these are, indeed, tough times, this shall also pass. Hence, we all need to be calm and take things easy.

    Finally, all levels of government should pay more attention to mental health issues and ensure that access to care is made as easy as possible.

    Aruya is of the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.