Covid-19 sets off mental health time-bomb

Thursday, October 15th, 2020 00:00 |
An elderly man undergoes a COVID-19 nasal swab test. Photo/Courtesy

While mental health is an issue that has been bothering psychologists and the medical world for some years now, 2020 has brought in a new urgency due to the vagaries brought by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the US for instance, the Department of Labour says the number of permanent job losers increased by 345,000 to 3.8 million in September, an increase of 2.5 million people since February.

In June, the African Union noted that “nearly 20 million jobs, both in the formal and informal sectors, are threatened. 

The European Parliament notes that “Covid-19 could lead to the emergence of a “lockdown generation”, as the crisis hits young people’s job prospects.  

In Asia, the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank warned in August that employment prospects for 663 million youth were dim, with between 10-15 million jobs threatened by the pandemic. 

ILO notes that “work arrangements and conditions have changed considerably due to the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing new psychosocial challenges for the health and well-being of workers.” 

The psycho-social crisis caused by the ravages of Covid-19 is an issue that was highlighted on October 10 during the United Nations World Mental Health Day, marked under the theme, “Mental Health For All: Greater Investment - Greater Access.”

According to a Lancet Commission report published in November 2018, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost globally due to mental illness every year.

Further, the report says that mental illness will cost the world $16 trillion by 2030.

The simmering economic recession has created anxiety on those who are directly or indirectly affected.

The youth are definitely frustrated after passing through many years of school, only to hit a dead end.

Families are falling apart, as most breadwinners are unable to provide for their dependants. 

Some measures instituted by governments like lockdowns, social distancing and working from home, have disoriented many people.

The closing of social spaces has aggravated the sense of loneliness as people lack places to vent pent-up emotions. 

Frontline workers in various sectors have also been affected as a result of constantly managing trauma, particularly when the pandemic was at its peak mid this year.

Many doctors and nurses have experienced mental torment every day as they struggle to save lives. They are also fearful for their own health due to the risk of contracting the virus.  

The pandemic itself is a source of anxiety for adults who fear either losing their lives or those of their dependants.

The closure of houses of worship for months has also affected millions of faithful, who usually visit such places for spiritual nourishment. 

The zenith of the current mental health crisis is the spiralling of social ills including depression, suicide, domestic violence, rape and divorce.

The World Health Organization says coronavirus has had a negative impact on brain health through various neurological manifestations and exacerbation of underlying or pre-existing psychological conditions.

In order to address this illness before it explodes, health authorities are trying out innovative psychosocial interventions like the use of emergency telephone lines for mental health sufferers, establishing mental health clinics and sending out counsellors to vulnerable individuals.

The challenge will be sustaining whatever solutions are implemented in a world that is set to be more problematic.    

In addition, the adage of being ‘my brother’s keeper’ needs to be practiced more often.

Due to widespread social isolation, individuals must seek out one another for comfort and assistance where needed.

Such simple gestures can be reassuring to many right now living on the edge, before they engage in self-harm. — The writer is a communications expert and public policy analyst  [email protected]

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