EDITORIAL: Mental Health in the Pandemic Session 1
When is our normal going to come back? This question among others is fueled by distress. However, what we might not know without asking is the position of the sentence. A torn home, an abusive partner, a hungry stomach, a lost job, a sick loved one, a depressed person, a dead loved one, a postponed degree, a postponed wedding, etc. The uncertainty of when life will shift to normal… rather new normal has brought with it mental health strain that so many experts all over the world are warning might lead to mental health crises.
The pandemic has added to the burden we bear physically, socially, economically, and mentally. Governments all over the world are placing more focus on the economy with less attention on the Mental Health of its people. The month of May which is the Mental Health Awareness month has seen sensitization of the agenda via a series of webinars with experts addressing questions around Mental Health. However, does the end on May usher in a stop on such conversations? With the pandemic’s impact looming large, every day seems like a crisis.
Last week I sat down with young professionals and students from the country and beyond to reconnect with kindness and gentleness on the impacts this period poses on people’s mental health and offer some self-care recommendations. This initiative will run throughout the month of June, with the goal of localizing Mental Health Awareness, spreading love beyond regions, offer new capacities for self-awareness and self-care, discover deeper connections with others, and perhaps a new sense of wellbeing and purpose for the youth.
Lizzah Aquiliah, Kenyan lawyer and a policy analyst, agreed on the need for awareness beyond the month of May and beyond country borders (remotely). She mentioned the need for more safe zones for people suffering mentally in this period to open up, her assessment of Kenya on the implications of the virus show a suffering nation, heightened inequalities, and injustices.
As Kenya and other countries ease restrictions with steps towards reopening the economy and countries in general, people will have to open up more due to an expected punch of the post-pandemic recession on mental health. For Dennis Oguda, a Kenyan economics student, this period and the recession will interrupt the youthful goals he and others have set. With countries like Kenya which had a high unemployment rate before the pandemic, they might see themselves sink even further leading to high cases of stress, anxiety among other disorders on its youth.
The implications are the same in every country of the world with rising cases, but, how does it look in the countries that are under lockdown? Just as the reflections during lockdown in Metro Manila, Daniela Maria- a College student leader from Philippines-holds the same thought. Daniela is a social person, and to her, this period hasn’t been easy to adapt. Additionally, many families in Metro Manila are facing economic hardship right now, adding significant stress to the entire family. Listen to Daniela, as she shares her observation on the impacts of the pandemic.
Uganda isn’t the only country that has registered cases of gender-based violence in this period, However, according to Jane Namara, an activist and the Executive Director Hands of Hope there is an alarming rise in Uganda. And with the young children at home, she discovered acquired mental disorders on the children from the strained homes. The period has amplified the inequities in education systems worldwide through remote learning, which has little to zero boost on personal connections between teachers and students. Therefore, with the schools in a limbo children lack a place to get real-time counseling and positive distraction. Listen to Jane as she shares her observation from Uganda.
Ednah Samba, a pro-life Advocate, reiterates on Lizzah’s observation about what Kenya is facing and how it translates into mental disorders. With her work also impacted, she and many advocates - working to help provide support; emotional and physical to victims of rape among other social injustices in order to preserve the sanctity of life- know what the period means to the mental health of people. Listen as she shares her observation.
What are the tell-tale signs? What is the way next? What are some self-care skills to help reduce the effects if not prevent them? For those already diagnosed and already in medication or therapy this period affects their coping skills, what of those who have no history of disorders-those currently showing bubbling characteristics, how can they go about this period? While it may be hard to know who is suffering mentally, we are required to show interest in one another so as to discern a few characteristics. For instance, an article by Guardian raises concern about how Alcohol sales have soared in this pandemic, Kenya isn’t left behind either (read here). People are using drinking as a coping mechanism, drinking more than they should. This is a sign of a mental health crisis. Another would be the change in sleeping pattern, listen to Dennis’ soundbite on sleeping pattern.
Of equal importance, to stay grounded in this period acknowledge the angst and despair the news-being present to what’s happening in the world right now-causes. This helps you process information with an open mind, but, if you find it difficult to do so limit the exposure to the information you take in. This does not mean staying uninformed, we are just not equipped to handle catastrophic news, all day. Also, some of the things I do to avoid anxiety would be to go outside every morning, I either walk more than a mile or jog more than a mile. Both ways just to get some sunlight which boosts serotonin levels for boosts in mood and calmness. Apart from exercises and home workouts that equally promote mental health, setting out a routine in this period could go a long way into creating rhythm that will make you feel the urgency and purpose for life. Inherently, humans are social beings with web-like connections seeking to be loved and cherished. To practice this connection, family settings should try and have inclusive moments such as having meals together, playtime, movie nights, etc. just to foster a sense of belonging. After all is said and done, if you need professional help don’t hesitate. There is national reach out lines and organizations like Ednah’s that can offer the support you require. As a parting shot let’s be kind to ourselves and others, listen in to my closing remarks.
Written by Jimmie Chengo for the Mental Health in the Pandemic initiative.
Cover picture from Sane Australia website,
More information on Mental Health:https://www.sane.org/information-stories/the-sane-blog/wellbeing/covid-19-complex-mental-health