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‘Mental health cases to surge’

BY STAFF WRITER

EXPERTS have predicted a surge in mental health related complications as people grapple with the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The emergence of the epidemic has significantly altered people’s lives with movement restrictions, new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, among others.

Experts have noted that these factors, coupled with the anguish of losing loved ones to the pandemic and fear of contracting the virus will certainly lead to a significant rise in mental health problems.

Secretary and chief talent team leader of the Society for Pre- and Post-Natal Services (SPANS) in Zimbabwe Linos Muvhu said the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have brought about major changes in lifestyles, which will have a long-term impact on mental and physical health.

“We are seeing increased stress, anxiety, depression and fear amongst our service users. Demands for family therapy have grown in response to increased reports of gender-based violence. We believe the pandemic serves as a wake-up call to invest more in maternal mental health in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Research has shown that the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant economic challenges have a serious bearing on mental health and created renewed obstacles for people already suffering from mental illness. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Health Tracking Poll conducted in the United States in July 2020 revealed that a sizeable number of adults have been reporting specific adverse impacts on their mental health and well-being.

“These challenges included difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus,” reads the poll findings, in part.

In Zimbabwe, Covid-19 related deaths have been on an upward trajectory over the past few months.

“A number of people have lost very close relatives within a short space of time due to Covid-19. Some have lost both parents or siblings. The psychological trauma associated with such a painful loss is massive and can lead to adverse emotional health effects like anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration,” mental health expert Nyasha Motsi said.

Besides death related matters, Motsi added that issues to do with uncertainty of what the future holds, discrimination associated with those who would have recovered from the disease, loss of income and changes in lifestyle to adapt to the new normal can trigger challenges.

While government has demonstrated modest support for mental health services through the development of the National Mental Health Strategy for Zimbabwe 2016 – 2020, more still needs to be done to help people during the current trying times.

The limited allocation of funds for mental health is a cause for concern.

The World Health Organisation Special Initiative for Mental Health Situational Assessment report on Zimbabwe published in March 2020 showed that of the total health budget, 0,42% is allocated to mental health and public spending on mental health is estimated at US$0,13 per capita each year.

“The country faces some complexities in treating people with mental illnesses. Legislation that supports mental health needs revising, as it has not been changed since 1999. There is a shortage of human resources for mental health in Zimbabwe, in part a result of the emigration of locally trained professionals due to economic instability,” the report reads.

This shows that mental health issues have to be addressed and more resources are required for research on the current mental health trends in the midst of the pandemic to assess the intensity of the problem.

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