KAMPALA – The recent extension of the COVID -19 preventative and control measures for the next 21 days till May 5th 2020 and the insurmountable updates transmitted through radio, television, and social media platforms are well-founded however these have placed us in an awkward position that affects our mental health in one way or the other.
According to the Ministry of Health (MoH) general information on mental health leaflet, the risk of mental illness is higher among the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, persons with low education, victims of violence, emigrants and refugees, children and adolescents, abused women and the neglected elderly.
The Health Budget Framework Paper for the financial year 2019/20 recognises (sic) the tendency of focusing more on physical health than mental health issues and yet all are of great importance. This notion is made stronger by James Mugisha and other researchers in their 2019 research piece published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems for they observe that limited funding is one of the key barriers at institutional level, noting that funding for mental health activities has remained low despite overall growth in funding to the health sector budget over the years.
The new normality unveils mental health as an important fragment of our healthcare system that should not be disregarded. The closure of schools, religious places, non –essential businesses, entertainment places, the stoppage of public transport, the social distancing and stay home – stay safe campaigns have inextricably disrupted our different ways of life or altered our daily routines. As a result, many are suffering from psychological distress emanating from poverty, hunger, unemployment, disappointments, economic losses, and the fear of contracting the disease. For the patients in isolation and their close contacts under quarantine, the inability to physically interact with friends and family members is a nerve-racking ordeal.
It is glaringly impossible to escape from the surroundings of anxiety, depression, and insomnia that continue to clog our minds on a daily with no instantaneous avenues to cleanse them.
In trying to solve the COVID -19 prevention puzzle lies the crux of addressing the mental health offshoot; thence there should be no omission of ignoring this looming dilemma for the reason that there is a higher possibility of an upsurge in the number of mental health patients in the country.
The government through its structural contrivances ought to mitigate the socio-economic welfare constraints of the affected demographics in the context of reducing mental health cases caused by the pandemic.
With expert’s failure to guarantee the immediate release of a vaccine, there is need to integrate mental health treatment interventions into the overall deployment of the COVID -19 prevention and control mechanisms.
Once this strategy is considered, stakeholders at the helm of resource distribution should swiftly consider allocating more funds to the mental health system to facilitate psychological interventions to address the current mental health challenges.
It is a fact that most mental health units have hitherto been neglected. But for this situation, it is inevitable to resuscitate them with the requisite resources to facilitate the hotline psychological assistance mechanisms and outreach programmes for patients and care givers.
The government should also think of setting up regional mental health call centres and telemedicine technologies for purposes of attending to COVID -19 exposed persons or close contacts under quarantine, patients, front-line medical workers, public health enforcement officers, and members of the general public in real time.
In view of countering the overwhelming information inflow on or about COVID -19, MoH in partnership with media houses and other stakeholders should tailor positive messages with the intent of mitigating panic, restlessness, loneliness, helplessness, depression, pessimism, anger, nervousness, and stress.
Odur Anthony is a Team Leader, Health Equity and Policy Initiative (HEAPI)