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Take care of your mental health as you fight impact of Covid-19

Friday June 05 2020
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A stressed woman touching her forehead at team meeting. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

By NJOKI CHEGE

As you might have already figured out by now, the novel coronavirus is not just a public health crisis, it is a global socio-economic problem whose magnitude has been likened to that of the great depression in the 1930s.

We are going through some terrible times. Businesses and institutions have been forced to make very painful decisions that involved either reducing their employees’ salaries or laying them off altogether.

Some institutions have slashed salaries by 30 per cent while others have gone as high as 80 and 90 per cent.

Many businesses have reduced their operations and some have closed down completely, never to return. Young people who began the year teeming with hopes for success, chanting ‘2020 is my year’ at the beginning of this year, now have to deal with unfulfilled dreams and missing out on the sheer joy of throwing your graduation cap in the air because now they are graduating virtually.

DEAD ON ARRIVAL

Our plans for 2020 were dead on arrival, and now for most people this year represents only two things — pain and disappointment.

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But as we think about how our public health systems have been stretched beyond their capacity and the untold economic losses experienced by businesses, we must not forget what I think is the biggest impact of the coronavirus, our mental health.

Life as we knew it — before the coronavirus — was already difficult for many people. People were struggling to pay school fees and mothers were worried about the next meal.

Now, with widespread lockdowns, curfews, cessation of movements and minimal economic activity, these problems have doubled, if not multiplied a hundred-fold and this is why today we must speak about the impact of Covid-19 on our mental health.

I must admit I had not thought about this seriously until last Saturday, while on a call with a friend who painted a picture for me that I still struggle to get out of my mind.

In many words, he said that people are going through untold mental anguish, silently with nowhere to go and nobody to speak to.

Think about all the families who were already going through a financial crisis that now have to deal with pay cuts and increased spending on basic stuff like food, because all their three children are at home, demanding three square meals a day and a landlord who will not budge.

Think about the single-income families who were already struggling to live on one income and now have to survive on a fraction of that single income.

SOLE BREADWINNER

Still on that single-income point, think about the cases where it is the woman who is the sole breadwinner, married to a man who, by no fault of his own, is unable to provide for his family — yet still wants to ‘feel like a man’ — on a severely reduced single income.

Even as we enjoy spending extra time with family and partners, we must also think about families in violent situations.

The women who have vowed to leave their matrimonial homes once the lockdowns have been lifted because of the levels of violence meted out on them during this mandatory stay-at-home order.

We must remember the children who are not having it easy with abusive fathers and mothers, children who would rather be in school than at home.

As we work from home and families increasingly spend more time together, there are also those on the other end of the spectrum, the ones spending most of their time alone, away from family and friends.

We must think about those people who are dealing with the repercussions of Covid-19 by themselves, and the mental impact of this loneliness.

JOB LOSSES

With the ubiquitous job losses, reduced incomes, stifled movements and the fear of the unknown, feelings of anxiety and increased stress levels are likely to become very common — especially if one is by themselves, leading to low self-esteem, isolation from family, friends, high levels of drugs and alcohol abuse and suicide.

In the same vein, may I ask what we are doing about the single mothers who have to navigate this pandemic by themselves?

Those who have to work from home — if at all they still have their jobs — be there for their children and pay bills. Who is there for these struggling single mothers?

As we think about increasing mass testing and reducing new infections, I want to challenge us to think about supporting the most important aspect of our health and that is, mental health.

The writer is the director of the Innovation Centre at Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications. The views expressed in this column are hers; [email protected]

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