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Coronavirus-The Mental Dimension

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By Moses Charedzera

This is the second and final installment of a two-part analysis on Covid-19 and its impact on mental health.

The Factors Promoting Mental Instability

In Zimbabwe a number of factors are at play during the lockdown and these can promote mental instability.They include dependence on the informal sector by the majority of the population. In 2018 the International Monetary Fund rated Zimbabwe as the country with the second largest informal economy as a percentage of its total economy in the world, after Bolivia. 

In 2016 former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasadescribed the informal sector as the “new economy”.Informal sector traders in many cities and towns rely on daily earnings to survive and the current situationhas resulted in hunger, anxiety or fear of how they are going to survive during the lockdown and even after. Many informal trade market stalls have been destroyed in Harare and other urban areas and the loss of livelihoods is bound to severely affect the traders.

The disruption to supply chains, free movement and transportation systems in rural areas has also impacted rural economies as sales of agricultural produce have been restricted, leading to anxiety over loss of incomes.

Disruption of daily routines coupled with social isolation and distancing has also affected many who depend on close physical interaction with partners, family, work mates, church mates and general societal interaction. Many may fail to adjust to the changes leading to depression or worsening of existing mental or physical conditions.

Covid-19 has been dubbed a disease of fear due to the deaths it has caused in other countries and the fear it induces in the population due to the absence of a cure. The feelings of uncertainty and lack of safety that it engenders may lead to an outlook of hopelessness and lack of safety which can unhinge psychological stability.

Mental health experts have also highlighted the possibility of obsessive-compulsive disorders stemming from overdoing preventive measures out of fear of contracting the disease, such as sanitising and social distancing.

The drastic limiting of visitors in hospitals and other medical facilities to one per patient have psychologicaleffects on patients who were used to seeing relatives and loved one visiting them, but are now cut of from the socio-psychological and even spiritual support.

Studies of confined prisoners have indicated high rates of depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While coronavirus patients are not in prison, the quarantine and isolation they live under could trigger these conditions.

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Coping with Covid-19: The Advice   

Mental Health experts say it is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during a crisis but one should remember the following:

– Maintain a healthy lifestyle as far as you can, including diet, sleep and exercise.

– Don’t smoke, drink or use drugs to deal with your emotions.

– Keep connected to people by phone, email and social media.

– Be kind to others and to yourself.

– Use skills you already have, and have used in the past, to deal with stress.

– Limit worry by watching or listening to media coverage less.

– Structure your day with things that you can realistically achieve.

– Get the facts to help you determine your risk and protect yourself.

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