Sheron Mirriam Tazvivinga
As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the country, the disease keeps exposing the country’s urgent need to implement relevant approaches and policies that support mental wellness.
The effects of the pandemic have challenged the mental health of many people, yet the country is still lagging in implementing critical mental health support systems.
Kwekwe based Tsitsi Mutema who is a COVID-19 survivor shares some of her experiences during the time she was self-quarantined and struggling with the disease.
Mutema says she developed the fear of death triggered by continuous media reports on the COVID-19 death toll in the country.
” I was worried that I might die since COVID-19 is deadly and responsible for many deaths in the country,” she said
Mutema’s ordeal is part of a broader challenge that is being faced by many COVID-19 survivors.
Speaking during the mental health case investment launch in July 2021, the Vice President and Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Constantino Chiwenga said that the pandemic has worsened the existing mental health situation in the country.
“Consequently, social isolation, fear of contracting the virus, fear of death, loss of livelihoods among other things has been associated with an increase and worsening of mental health disorders,” he said.
A report on the assessment of mental health services by the World Health Organization (WHO) quotes the WHO’ Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti, “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown, more than ever, how mental health is integral to health and well-being and must be an essential part of health services during an outbreak and emergencies.”
The impact of COVID-19 goes beyond its physical and economic toll. Experts have expressed that people who had suffered from COVID-19 were likely to suffer from other mental health conditions.
In an interview, Chegutu based Psychiatrist, Dr Mawere said COVID-19 has serious negative implications on one’s mental health.
He added that “people who had recovered from the virus were likely to develop obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)”
In a research article by a US research center, Mayo Clinic, OCD is a mental health condition which leads to the fear of germs.
Dr Mawere said that this condition would cause one to constantly wash their hands for fear of germs.
“OCD is whereby one is scared that they might contract the virus again. The person will constantly wash their hands to try and get rid of the germs and in this case, the virus on their hands. The need to wash hands and put one two or more masks constantly can be mind boggling, ” he said.
People with OCD will struggle to re-assimilate back into society as they will continue about the virus even after the pandemic is over, Mawere said.
The pandemic has not only affected the mental wellbeing of its survivors, but caregivers as well, as they bear the brunt of taking care of the COVID-19 patients at home.
Speaking to this publication Ruvimbo Mangirazi who lost her father to COVID-19 while she was admitted in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) said that this has not been an easy time for her family as they had lost their breadwinner.
” I couldn’t attend my father’s burial because I was in hospital. My father was the breadwinner of our family and I wonder how we are going to survive in his absence,” she said.
Fears of contracting the virus have also been on the rise among health workers due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) while attending to COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
In an interview with one of the health workers from Kwekwe General hospital who preferred anonymity, the publication established that working closely with COVID-19 patients is a stressful experience.
“Working closely with Covid 19 patients is one of the worst experiences any health worker can go through. You are always worried that you might get the virus since the hospital does not have enough PPE,” she said.
Dr Mawere added that caregivers were also likely to suffer from grief reaction disorder and COVID-19 thanatophobia.
According to WHO thanatophobia is the fear of death and in this case, it is the fear of dying from COVID-19.
“Grief reaction disorder can be caused by the loss of a loved one and in cases whereby one wasn’t able to attend their funeral. This usually results in depression, Mawere said.
Zimbabwe through the development of the National Health Strategy Plan 2016-20 has demonstrated modest support to improve mental health services in the country by decentralizing mental health facilities.
Mental health activist and founder of Unearthed, Gamuchirai Chinamasa said that more investment in mental health interventions remain critical.
“Mental health issues have not been effectively addressed as compared to other health issues. We still lagging as a country in dealing with the mental health crisis. There is need to continuously raise awareness, educate, offer support and establish facilities for support especially to those in the rural communities,” she said.