While the world patiently awaits vaccines and medications, global efforts and rigorous measures are being taken with the hope of slowing down the spread of the new strain of SARS-CoV2- officially called COVID-19.
Ghana recently joined the queue of countries in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic by enforcing some rigid measures such as social distancing, avoidance of large gatherings and lockdown on its citizens. Whilst these restrictive measures are taken to contain the outbreak, the consideration of psychological impact it may have on people’s mental health and well-being is very crucial and we should not take our foot off the pedal.
Segregation, separation, loneliness, shut down of institutions where people find comfort such as schools, churches, mosques, workplaces, are issues that affect us and are heavy forces enough to deeply sink people into depression, fear and anxiety.
I acknowledge and appreciate the president of Ghana, Nana Akufo –Addo, in his efforts to relieve the “ordinary Ghanaian” from the financial pressures and burdens that come along with lockdown.
“We are in difficult times, and that is why I directed the Minister for Finance to send to Parliament the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP), whose objective is to protect households and livelihoods, support micro, small, and medium-sized businesses, minimise job losses, and source additional funding for promotion of industries to shore up and expand industrial output for domestic consumption and exports,” the president said in his 5th address on COVID-19 to the nation on the 5th April, 2020.
Mr President, this beautiful speech is indeed a positive move to help ease the physiological and economic stress Ghanaians are subjected to. However, these measures outlined in this speech give little attention to the psychological impact of citizens.
The mental health of people is very sacrosanct. A mental condition can affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood and the normal behavior. The social, economic and the political ramifications on the nation during and even after the pandemic cannot be over emphasised. Thus, psychological interventions should not be overlooked when measures are being put up and implemented in response to disease outbreaks.
According to Zhank and others in a paper published in 2020, outbreaks such as HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002, H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2013 and the ZIKA virus outbreak in 2016 impaired the psychological wellbeing of citizens.
World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that due to inadequate psychological interventions, people experienced diverse psychological effect through the mode of transmission, fear of death and the experience of witnessing people die during the Ebola outbreak. This resulted in individuals, families, community members and health workers suffering from depression and anxiety more than a year after the outbreak, WHO further said.
Hans Kluge, the European director of WHO was on record to have said recently that it is essential to address the public mental health of people during this coronavirus era.
We must plan for a period like this. This is a perilous period to provide short and long-term social and psychological interventions to avoid depression, fear, anxiety or lack of participation over the next weeks and even after the pandemic. We need to implement strategies addressing psychological needs and weaknesses emanating from the pandemic rather than exacerbating the problem.
The fight against COVID-19 is a fight for all. We could learn from the Chinese experience by using conference videos, audios and other social media apps, through internet technology. This should be done by engaging mental health practitioners, psychiatrists, medical doctors, and social workers to educate and counsel people on how to overcome fear and panic, how to maintain emotional stability, how to avoid the spread and protect oneself from contracting the disease. We should not forget to create apps to suit children who are mostly psychologically affected, especially in this precarious time of not attending school.
The integrated education and counseling can be recorded, translated into different languages and circulated on various media platforms. These recordings could be used by radio, television and public information vans to educate people especially those who do not have access to social media.
Our health workers should be adequately trained and counseled to prepare them both physically and psychologically on how to overcome the fear of seeing people die in case the mortality rate increase. Aside from that, they should be given proper training and usage of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to prevent them from contracting the disease as well as reducing and managing the stress associated with it. Telephone lines and websites must be provided basically for COVID-19 education and counseling.
As we fight the war against COVID- 19, we must fight it holistically. It is the suggestion of the writer that attention should not only be focused on the medical, economical and sociological angles but the psychological perspective should be included.
By: Benita Odoi (M.A, B.A, Legon)