The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in emotional stress on the people due to uncertainty with regards to discovering a vaccine. The emotional stress has affected people in the society- ranging from the elderly to those who had pre-existing cases of mental health illness.
It is universally acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a global public health challenge that was last experienced during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. While the government and healthcare institutions have adopted measures to combat the spread of the virus, a study has revealed that we may also be dealing with another kind of national challenge- The effect of COVID-19 on the mental health of Nigerians.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in a country characterized by over 200 million people, one in four Nigerians is suffering from some sort of mental illness.
With the increasing rate of the incidence of COVID-19, the mental health of several Nigerians has been affected by the effects of the pandemic.
A consulting psychiatrist in Lagos State, Dr. Thomas Ibironke, states that:
“Mental and psychosocial illnesses can result from social isolation, loss of pleasures of life (like attending parties, travelling, and conferences) and stress arising from working at the frontlines. Others include unstructured work, handling children while working, job loss amongst others. With lockdowns and movement restrictions in place in many states, levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour may also be on the increase.
“To have good mental health during the pandemic, people need to focus on what is within their control, take care of their general health including diet, sleep and exercise, reduce listening or watching unreliable news, connect with loved ones remotely and speak out if they are struggling and speak to a licensed professional (counselling, other therapies, medication if needed).”
The government has taken measures, such as creating policies and economic packages, to prevent an economic downturn. This effort should also be directed at controlling the mental health of Nigerians.
According to WHO, some of the psychological impact of COVID-19 on the emotional well-being of people arose from food insecurities, fear of personal safety, reduced household income, and high levels of anxiety about work.
In a country characterized by a high rate of unemployment, poverty, and insecurity, the pandemic has a multiplier effect on the mental health of its people. The social distancing and quarantine measures, as well as the death rates, have also led to emotional trauma on individuals.
Healthcare workers are also at risk of experiencing mental breakdown as they strive to cope with the risk of caring for sick patients during the pandemic.
During the ongoing pandemic, mental health service providers have reported a significant increase in demand for their services. People with no pre-existing incidence of mental health illness are now experiencing similar conditions.
We must take measures to control the effect of the pandemic on the mental health of the people. For example, healthcare workers should be allotted period to take a break from work. This will assist them in dealing with the stress of combating the spread of the virus. Emotional therapy should also be provided to these workers.
While addressing the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health, Dr. Igbokwe says:
“I have attended to quite a number of patients going through phases like anxiety and depression and have been able to help a lot recover and get back on track when things are not as they used to be, it is not surprising to see these effects on people’s mental health.”
“To maintain good mental health during this pandemic, it is important to adhere to a few guidelines; don’t stay inactive for extended periods watching TV, don’t spend time thinking or asking when will this end or why is it affecting me, don’t lose hope, faith and self-control. Do have a routine, do exercise, do focus on the positive aspects of the situation, do pay attention to nutrition, do have quality conversations with friends and loved ones.”
Programmes, such as art and crafts skills, tips for practicing mindfulness, etc., should be organized to reduce the prevalence of mental health problems amongst Nigerians. The government should also take steps in curbing this problem. A study should be conducted to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of Nigerians.
This study will guide the government on the right measures to take in reducing the prevalence of mental health challenges