Mental strain from coronavirus might weaken national cohesion


What you need to know:

  • When life is threatened, mental health is compromised due to the traumatic stress.
  •   Feelings of security and safety have been challenged

Two recent surveys by Infotrack show that 75 per cent of Kenyans are “worried” and “anxious” about Covid-19.There is stress, uncertainty, fear, insecurity, loneliness, grief and loss. These are traumatic stress symptoms, normal reactions to a pandemic.Besides, many families have been displaced by floods and demolitions. Feelings of security and safety have been challenged. When life is threatened, mental health is compromised due to the traumatic stress.Recently, the WHO said Covid-19 is endemic and could last for many years. So, those who were looking forward to a quick reprieve — going back to work and children resuming school — have had their hopes shattered, hence uncertainty.TRAUMATIC STRESSTraumatic stress is not a mental illness. It is a mental health challenge that affects emotions, thoughts and feelings. We respond to traumatic incidents with psychological distress the same way flu or malaria can cause physical illness. If illness persists, we seek medical advice — the doctor and the hospital.For the usual mental health challenges — stress, anxiety, depression and traumatic stress — we consult psychologists and counsellors. For chronic mental illness, for example psychosis, we consult psychiatrists.The professionals often collaborate to care for individual clients according to the diagnosis.When increasing traumatic stress in a population is ignored or not validated, the result is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and escalating depression. Researchers predict global higher levels of PTSD beyond Covid-19, hence the need to put into place national systems of psychosocial care.NATIONAL UNITYMental health challenges compromise individual peace, child safety, family cohesion, community oneness and ultimately, national unity.Understanding this trajectory in terms of the impact of Covid-19 over time and for different populations is critical for peace, socioeconomic and political wellness, and national cohesion.Traumatic stress that is not addressed can lead to depression or brew aggression and violence. In Kenya, Covid-19 rides on past traumatic incidents that were not adequately addressed in a structured manner.Mental health issues following some of our major traumatic incidents have been partially managed by “volunteer” counsellors and psychologists or not serviced at all.Untreated PTSD may result in depression, recurring physical illness, drug and alcohol abuse and hopelessness that impede a person’s ability to work and interact with others.Past traumatic incidents include the 1998 Nairobi American Embassy bombing, the 2008 post-election violence, the 2009 Molo tanker explosion, the 2011 Nairobi oil pipeline fire, the 2015 Westgate Mall terrorist siege, and the 2019 Dusit D2 terror attack.TRIBAL CONFLICTSThese incidents came on top of the tribal conflicts and unruly elections that bring their own measure of fear and insecurity.Research links ongoing conflicts and repetition of community violence to untreated trauma — individual and community. Since the onset of Covid-19, there are increasing cases of child abuse, domestic violence, suicide and homicide, as well as stigma.The country should address mental health issues related to the pandemic through the formal provision of psychosocial support to the general public as well as to our healthcare workers.Predictions indicate that there will be critical global post-Covid-19 mental health challenges and psychosocial care should go hand in hand with medical interventions.Covid-19 is a traumatic life-threatening pandemic, and traumatic stress is a normal response. However, if not well-managed, or if there are too many traumatic experiences over time with compromised coping, post-traumatic stress disorder can result.When traumatic incidents escalate and the causes are not addressed or validated, families, communities and the nation are likely to be adversely affected, compromising national cohesion. The current and post Covid-19 impact on personal, family, community and national mental health should receive the attention it demands.Gladys Mwiti (PhD) is a member of the Impact of Covid-19 on Social Cohesion Committee of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC). [email protected] @gladismwiti