Covid-19 sets off mental health time-bomb
While mental health is an issue that has been bothering psychologists and the medical world in general for a few years now, the issue has taken renewed urgency due to the vagaries wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
There is hardly any individual or society that has not been affected by the social and economic stress caused by Covid-19. Millions are out of work globally, sacked or furloughed as companies and organisations find it hard to keep them in employment.
In the US for instance, one of the countries that was hardest hit by the pandemic, millions are still out of work. According to the Department of Labor, the number of permanent job losers increased by 345,000 to 3.8 million in September 2020, an increase of 2.5 million people since February.
The African Union noted that nearly 20 million jobs, both in the formal and informal sectors, were threatened with destruction. Eurostat, a Directorate-General of the European Commission, estimated that over 15 million men and women in the European Union were unemployed in August 2020.
In Asia, the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank warned that employment prospects for 663 million youth were dim, with between 10-15 million jobs threatened by the pandemic. ILO noted that “work conditions have changed considerably due to the pandemic, bringing new psychosocial challenges for the health and well-being of workers.”
The foregoing unemployment figures show the magnitude of the psycho-social crisis caused by the ravages of Covid-19. Mental illness is not just a health issue. According to a Lancet Commission report published in November 2018, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost due to mental illness every year globally. Further, the report says that mental Illness will cost the world $16 trillion by 2030.
In addition to aggravated social unrest, mental illness also poses a serious risk to national security and rule of law and order as societies become dysfunctional. The economic recession created anxiety about the future. The youth are definitely frustrated after passing through many years of school, only to hit what they see as a dead end. Families are falling apart as breadwinners become increasingly unable to provide for their dependants.
Some measures instituted by governments like lockdowns, social distancing and working from home disoriented many people, notwithstanding their creed, race, gender, academic level, social or economic class. The feeling of being grounded and helpless resulted in despondency, with little or no hope for a brighter tomorrow. The closing of social spaces aggravated the sense of loneliness.
Frontline workers in various sectors have also been seriously affected as a result of constantly managing trauma, particularly when the pandemic was at its peak mid this year. Many doctors and nurses experienced mental torment every day as they struggle to save lives. They are also fearful for their own health due to the risk of contracting the virus.
The zenith of the current mental health crisis is the spiralling of social ills including depression, suicide, suicidal tendencies, domestic violence, rape and divorce. The World Health Organisation says coronavirus has had a negative impact on brain health through various neurological manifestations and the exacerbation of underlying or pre-existing psychological conditions.
In order to address this malady before it explodes, health authorities are trying out innovative psychosocial interventions like the use of emergency telephone lines for mental health sufferers, establishing mental health clinics and sending out counsellors to vulnerable individuals and communities.
In addition, the adage of being ‘my brother’s keeper’ needs to be practiced more often. Due to widespread social isolation, individuals must seek out one another for comfort where needed. Such simple gestures can be reassuring to many who are living on the edge, before they engage in self-harm.
— The writer comments on international affairs