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Safeguarding your mental health during coronavirus isolation

By Sandra Wekesa
Tuesday, April 7th, 2020
Dr Geoffrey Wango, Psychologist.

Sandra Wekesa @wekesa_sandra

Quarantine and isolation are well-established methods of dealing with infectious disease, such as the current coronavirus pandemic.

The disease outbreak first reported in December 2019 has seen many countries ask people who have potentially come into contact with the infection to isolate themselves at home or in a dedicated quarantine facility. 

While some people may label staying indoors as a minor inconvenience, psychologists say medical quarantine, and isolation in general, is associated with serious mental health effects. 

A recent review of research, published in The Lancet, found that quarantine is linked with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, confusion, and anger, with some research suggesting these effects are long-lasting.

Geoffrey Wango, a senior lecturer in counselling psychology at the University of Nairobi agrees that isolation is potentially a source of stress from fears of infection and long isolation, frustration, boredom, inadequate information and supplies, financial loss and stigma.

He says that given that the crisis is likely to be with us for some time, the mental health implications can’t be dismissed.

He says not being able to contact loved ones is associated with an increase in anxiety. Being unable to congregate, visit friends and family as it is usually our norm, he says can be stressful. 

“It is particularly harder for the older members of society and those with special needs, who do not have access to these kinds of communication channels such as TV, radio, internet as well as mobile phones and social media,” he explains.

Another potent source of anxiety centres around finance, with many fearing loss of jobs or, for the self-employed, a complete collapse in income.

Financial loss creates long-lasting socioeconomic distress and in studies of previous disease outbreaks was found to be a risk factor for symptoms of psychological disorder, anger and anxiety several months after the period of quarantine

He suggests that there are steps that may help mitigate some of the negative mental health effects during this period.

Ensure that they take care of themselves. “This involves protecting yourself and others from the virus through simple hygiene such as maintaining social distance, washing of hands and other safety and health precautions,” he says.

They should obtain accurate information and watch out for stress symptoms such as sadness, confusion, and anger, irritability, and post-traumatic stress are common symptoms to watch out for.

“They may experience reduced concentration, inefficiency and low productivity, social withdrawal and isolation,” he says.

He advises that, they need to take the first opportunity to find out if they are experiencing these emotions,” he says.

 He asks people to consult organisations that provide psychological support.

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