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Mental health matters during Covid-19 crisis

2020-07-17  Staff Reporter

Mental health matters during Covid-19 crisis
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The global Covid-19 pandemic has made us live in unprecedented times. The new realities of compulsory wearing of face masks in public places and keeping a physical distance from other human beings are new norms which we are slowly getting used to but scary at the same time. The current rapid increase of the spread and the number of the fatal Covid-19 cases in Namibia is causing fear and anxiety in some people. However, the heightened emotions of fear and anxiety are expected normal human body reactions which occur on one part of the human brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is a component of the human body brain which forms part of the limbic system. This component plays an important role in our emotions and behaviour and it is also best known for its role in the processing of fear and preparing our human bodies for the fight and flight actions. This means that our fears as human beings are so acute that the amygdala takes over and adrenaline immediately kicks in to prepare us for fight and flight.
When the first two cases of Covid-19 were announced, majority of the public out of fear and anxiety were seen around the malls and at some public outlets wearing face masks and hand gloves. In addition, most people were also seen doing mass buying of groceries, hand sanitisers and wet wipes which immediately went out of stock in most if not all shopping outlets. All these immediate reactions were as a result of the uncertainty which amplifies fears and anxiety which as human beings, we have no control over. An American neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, explains that the amygdala is indeed a system in the brain that detects and responds to danger and that fear is part of a human body awareness that we are in danger. 
The director general of the World Health Organisation has warned the world that the Covid-19 pandemic is projected to become endemic, so we need to learn to live with the virus. In epidemiology, the term endemic is defined as a constant presence of a disease in a specific location or population. Thus if coronavirus becomes endemic, this will mean that this virus will be in our midst, therefore as human beings, we will need to continue adhering to the measures put in place to control the spread of the virus. If this projection becomes a reality, does this mean that our amygdalae will be activated and functioning all day and night as long as Covid-19 cases keeps increasing? The reaction will definitely depend on how each individual person will processes this type of information. However, literature has proven that prolonged fear and anxiety has negative effects to the human body and some of the negative effects could be; stomach ulcers, cardiovascular problems, migraines, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder etc. While I acknowledge that fear and anxiety are normal and expected human body reactions, how can we then prepare ourselves so that when our amygdalas are at work, we don’t make mistakes which could potentially harm us or those around us?  The World Health Organisation have published tips which could help us take care of our mental health and prevent ourselves from the effects of prolonged fear and anxiety for Covid-19. One of the methods we could use to stop our amygdala from over reacting during this time is reasoning. As a society, we have constantly been educated and hearing about Covid-19 information for six months since the declaration of the virus as a global pandemic; therefore, we must adhere to all the rational and logical ways, which are made available to help us respond to the pandemic. As a nation, we need to ensure that we remain well informed by listening to advice and recommendations from the health care workers and other trusted professionals. Indeed, the newly established Covid-19 emergency operation centre in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Services and other partners has kept the Namibian nation well informed about Covid-19 and other related information. Particularly, panellists such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers have shared their valuable and valid advice with the Namibian nation about how we should take care of our physical and mental health during this trying times. It is important that we start having or strengthening our routines such as exercising times and meditation moments because the process of meditating was found to help with the relaxation of the body and mind of human beings. Another tip to help us take care of our mental health is the support and encouragement from citizens who have recovered from Covid-19. I thus wish to encourage the Covid-19 survivors to become supporters and serve as champions by being sources of hope to those who are struggling to come to terms with a positive Covid-19 diagnosis.
As a nation, let us continue with social distancing, correct wearing of face masks, washing of hands with running water or alcohol based sanitisers and to remain at home where possible in order to help curb the spread of this deadly virus. I strongly believe that we will endure the storm and we shall overcome Covid-19.
*Tekla Shiindi-Mbidi wrote this opinion piece in her capacity as a Young Midwife Leader and a member of the board of directors of the Independent Midwives Association of Namibia (IMANA).

2020-07-17  Staff Reporter

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