THE often-forgotten subject of mental health has become more topical during the Covid-19 era with many people battling depression and sadly for some, suicide, medical experts say.
Isolation and quarantine which are both measures being used to mitigate against further spread of the disease have evoked severe emotional stress with many people either fearing getting infected or re infected for those who have recovered. Many are afraid of either dying or losing loved ones.
According to Nombulelo Croco, a qualified clinical psychologist based in Bulawayo and also a lecturer in the same discipline at the Faculty of Medicine at the National University of Science and Technology, recovering from Covid-19 can evoke mixed feelings of relief and frustration.
“Many suffer stress from the experience of having Covid-19 and monitoring yourself or being monitored by others. For some they experience sadness, anger or frustration because friends or loved ones have fears of getting the disease from you, even though you have been cleared,” Croco said many of the recovered patients feel guilty about not being able to perform normal work or parenting duties while they had Covid-19.
“The patients worry about getting re-infected or sick again.
Speaking during a mental health webinar convened by the Global Shapers Community, Croco said young people are experiencing a prolonged state of physical isolation from their peers, teachers/lecturers, extended family and community networks.
According to the United Nations due to Covid-19, this group is most at risk of mental health problems along with frontline healthcare workers, older people and those with pre-existing mental health conditions.
Croco also said the experience generally has negative psychological effects including confusion, anger and post-traumatic distress.
“The duration of quarantine evokes infection fears and many experience boredom, frustration due to lack of necessary supplies and lack of information, financial loss and stigma appear to increase the risk of negative psychological outcomes,” she said.
Depression affects 264 million people in the world, while around half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, with suicide the second leading cause of death in young people aged 15 to 29.
Generally, many people who previously coped well are struggling due to Covid-19 related stressors which include addictive coping strategies; alcohol, drugs and online gaming.
Misinformation about the virus and prevention measures also feeds the growing phobia which if left untreated can cause severe mental illness.
Approximately one in every four in Zimbabweans suffers from a mental health disorder of some form and suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 28.
Speaking during the same webinar medical doctor Mthabisi Bhebhe said Zimbabwe has only nine institutions that offer mental health services and only two of these facilities have psychiatrists.
“We have only 11 psychiatrists in Zimbabwe serving a population of close to 15 million,” he said.
Over the years there has been little investment in this sector which has now become critical due to Covid-19 effects.
Meanwhile, sharing on suicide, counseling psychologist Von Mbaya explained that this sad act may be caused by externally motivated factors or family pressures that put a person in a position of uselessness.
“This is a way of trying to escape pain or suffering which might be caused by depression or other mental illness. Covid-19 has accelerated the occurrence of suicide cases in communities,” she said.
Mbaya explained that Covid-19 has brought despair and added ‘salt ‘to some already injured souls.
“The suicide cases have been reported occurring across gender divide and age groups. Families who are already in pressure because of lack of resources to sustain themselves are further pushed to the edge of disaster. The lockdown measures brought conditions that made people to lose employment, sources of income as businesses closed and or customers are left with no income to spend,” Mbaya added.
The most affected are women and children as family feuds usually arise when food runs short at home and money to pay rent and other necessities.
Blame game is apportioned to one member of the family as if he/she is the cause of all this suffering or that he/she lacks the qualities of a family provider.
“Women are usually on the receiving end as these arguments may end up physically and domestic violence results in such homes,” she said.
In Covid-19 situation most of the suicide cases were as a result of societal attitudes towards the infected, affected and stigma which may be shown towards the victims.
“This gives a sense of rejection to the affected. They will feel as outcasts rejected and avoided, hence they become suicidal.”
Accompanied with this lack of financial and social support during the time one is suffering makes pain look even insurmountable and the quick solution of escape from such is to think of suicide.
With the Covid-19 situation it means there is more idle time.
To spend this time, some people will use sex as entertainment or time occupier.
As such unwanted pregnancies will result to women and girls. When such happens more pressure is applied as resources to support the pregnancy and the resulting child will be scarce.
The result is domestic violence and rejection of girl child by parents.
The mounted pressure leads to suicide. Girls and boys therefore will think of ending their lives because of such challenges.
Suicide is common in teenagers, the reason being parents tend to have a hardline approach thus teenagers bottling emotions eventually leading to suicide.
Further, partners in relationships tend to ignore cries for help.
There has never been a study of suicide in relationships yet the statistics indicate abuse in relationships can lead to suicide.