#BREAKING: Zim Sitting On A Post COVID-19 Mental Health Time Bomb

MENTAL health expert and Psychologist, Dr Kudakwashe Muchena has warned of a serious mental health crisis post the COVID-19 induced lockdown at the back of economic and social uncertainties that have been brought about by the prevailing COVID-19 health crisis.

By Michael Gwarisa

In an interview with HealthTimes, Dr Muchena said Zimbabwe had already been experiencing high suicide and mental health cases before the COVID-19 struck and the prevailing health crisis would likely worsen an already fragile mental health environment.

We are sitting on a time-bomb, whilst all the focus has been on the Coronavirus and how to manage it and how to do everything possible in order for us to contain it, I think we are sitting on a mental health time-bomb which can explode and is likely to explode just after we have done away with this Coronavirus.

“We are going to face of lot of mental health challenges in terms of mental health issues. People are losing their jobs and a lot of people are dropping out of school among a lot of issues that are going on. For people who already had previous mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and so on, this has been exacerbated by the uncertainty of the future and it creates a lot of serious mental health issues,” said Muchena.

According to the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the country has been experiencing an increase in suicide cases since the year 2015, with most casualties being males. ZRP figures indicate that in 2015, 659 males committed suicide compared to 108 females while in 2019, 469 males committed suicide against 69 females.
Dr Muchena added that there was need for urgent intervention from the government of Zimbabwe to ensure the situation does not lead to a suicide pandemic.

Zimbabwe also has a highly in-formalized sector where majority of people live from hand to mouth and the prevailing crisis has greatly affected their livelihoods.

“Although the situation might not lead to a high rate of suicides, for Zimbabwean standards, if we can experience a death or two due to suicide on a daily basis, that is too much and it can be avoided. How this can be dealt with is actually a two stage process and its possible.

“The first stage could be strong advocacy; we need to advocate for mental health at all levels. The Coronavirus has brought something that is new to us, we now have Coronavirus sectors across the country. Why can’t we use those centres to be inter disciplinary centres where its not just a medicine centre where there is treatment of Coronavirus but can also be a centre where other related mental health services including mental health can be offered.”

He said even after the COVID-19 crisis is gone, these centres can still continue offering these services and save the nation from sliding into a mental health catastrophe. He added that government needs to create massive awareness of the triggers of mental health so to be able to manage mental health issues.

“This is possible, whilst we are dealing with COVID-19 and so forth, we also need to invest in mental health. Mental health has been neglected for a number of years in the country and nobody really cares about mental health. This is the right time to put mental health at the centre of our health delivery system to say some of the issues that we are facing as a country can be managed if we manage our mental health properly.

“People are losing jobs which is obvious. How are they going to survive thereafter? Some are likely to go into serious depression and may lead to hospitalisation at the extreme cases. To avoid that, why don’t government just start a program where they roll out mental health awareness campaigns across the country and to able to recruit staff to manage that process.

“There are a lot of people who are qualified, the Universities are producing graduates every day and the Zimbabwe Psychological association also has a platform to engage mental health experts,” said Dr Muchena.

Meanwhile, North America and Europe are estimated to have recorded an excess of 10 000 suicides between 2008 and 2010 due to the effects of the great recession which left many people jobless and savings gone to waste. The increase was four times higher among men than women, according to the report published in the current issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Dr Muchena added that even though Zimbabwe may not experience a surge in suicides as was the case with the European Union, Canada and the United States post the Great recession, the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe and the world over will be felt for more than six years.

“We need to have a multi-stakeholder approach where we need to bring Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), private sector and government together to then say plan for the next phase of the pandemic. The physical effects of the pandemic are going to end very soon but the emotional and mental health effect of the pandemic will be with us for the next five or six years and that’s long term.

“Unlike this pandemic which will be over in say six or eight months, the mental health pandemic will stay with us for the next five years and government needs to put in a structure to manage that through advocacy and using facilities that have currently been established for COVID-19 and convert them into multidisciplinary centres that include not just physical health, but also mental health.”

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