Let's talk about isolation, something that moved up the everyday-life popularity chart during these pandemic times, especially when Covid struck for the first time. What mental health issues could be hiding behind the mask of 'isolate to protect from the pandemic?'
Isolation and loneliness are perfect breeding grounds for various mental disorders. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and alcoholism are just some of the disorders that thrive in isolation. Some cases are quite severe while others are mild.
The past few years have seen a gradual rise in mental health issues. Then came 2020, the year everyone was placed under mandatory isolation. This isolation helped to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but it also led to a spike in mental health issues.
In Kenya, many of those affected are not in a good financial position to access the psychiatric help they need. Little room to vent led to suicides, domestic violence, and high levels of alcoholism. It must be remembered that in 2020, the Ministry of Health, through The Taskforce on Mental Health, recommended that the government of Kenya declares mental health a national emergency.
According to research conducted by UNICEF, the impact of the pandemic is being felt more every day amongst both adults and children. According to their latest report, at least 1 in 7 children has been affected directly by the lockdown. Over 1.6 billion children have experienced disruption in their everyday life. Many remain uncertain about their future.
How can we combat this?
There is a high unmet need for psychological health in Kenya. Many people in this country do not have access to quality therapy sessions. This is due to the high level of economic hardships many are facing, especially after 2020 when COVID-19 hit hard.
We have to face the reality that there is a huge elephant in the room when it comes to issues of mental health. There have been cases of children committing suicide, mothers killing their children and then offing themselves, and men killing themselves and their spouses or entire families.
Here are some of the ways we can combat mental disorders that thrive mostly in isolation.
As a country, we need to acknowledge that mental health disorders are very real. We need to be more aware of our surroundings and those around us: family, neighbours, schoolmates, and workmates. Many are sick and they need help.
We also need to accept that help is not readily available to the common mwananchi in the village.
So, in what ways can we help reach the villages?
The government could allocate funds to enable the training of community health workers on psychological therapy. This is because most community health workers have easy access to people in the communities they serve.
In Kenya, guidelines have been put in place by the Division of Mental Health in partnership with the Kenya Psychiatric Association to help in the provision of mental health services, in relation to the impact of COVID-19.
Here are some everyday things that can help out:
Children are not exempted from emotional disorders. For them, it could be caused by bullying, loss of a loved one, adjustment issues to new environments, and abuse in the home set up. Children tend to withdraw from their environment and most of the time when this happens, their school performance goes down.
Teachers and parents are encouraged to be keen on such signs in a child. Caregivers should be on the lookout for behaviour changes in the child. Such changes include withdrawal from the people around them, acts of aggression towards others, and changes in how they dress or talk.
Another way you can help children is by creating an environment that helps the child to open up and be able to freely express themselves. This will enable the child to express their frustrations and issues that may trigger mental issues in them.
Children learn a lot from observation, especially in the home set-up. It will be healthy to set up a positive example of how to handle stressful situations as an adult.
The caregiver must build trust with the children. This gives them a sense of security. They will know that when they are stressed out, they can run to so and so and talk it out.
Last but not least, find activities that engage both parents and teachers to strengthen their bond. That way, information on how the child is fairing will be easily and efficiently passed. Things such as games, hikes, evening walks and even watching movies are healthy ways of building relationships.
A large number of adults go through emotional disorders. For some, they have found ways of coping with the situations and are enhancing their healing much faster. For others, however, it may take the intervention of those around them, and in the worst case, medical intervention may be required.
When you see any sign of mental illness in someone close to you, try and intervene or get them help. Reach out to the person, and spend time with them to help them go through the situation.
In cases where it is life-threatening, reach out to the relevant authority that is able to handle the situation. These are situations where someone’s life is being threatened and they need help (domestic violence or suicidal cases)
All humans are connected in one way or another. We are all symbiotic in nature and that is what makes us thrive. This is why there is a need to always stay connected to your friends and family.
Here are ways of being connected
- Stay in constant communication with friends and family. Thanks to technology, distance is not a hindrance to communication, anymore. This is the one thing that kept many people going during the pandemic isolation.
- Come up with activities that keep you physically engaged. Exercising is one healthy activity that everyone should be involved in. You can also come up with group activities for families, friends, or even in the workplace. This is always good as it helps you connect with each other in a deeper and more meaningful way.
- Take a break from the busy schedule and lifestyle you live. This can help rejuvenate you and also focus more on yourself and ways of improving your life.
Socialization, and being in contact with the people around you and your environment, is important. Engage in positive and productive activities that improve your overall well-being. When you realize you need help seek it as soon as possible.