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The Place Of Mental Sanity In The COVID-19 Pandemic

As part of efforts to contain the spread and devastation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, had on Sunday, March 29, 2020, ordered a total shutdown of Lagos, Abuja, and Ogun states.

Total shut down of nations and cities and the concomitant social distancing, it is meant to achieve, has shown to be very effective in China, South Korea, Singapore and other nations in reducing the spread of the virus.

But the drastic measure comes at a huge cost. It is feared that some people are particularly vulnerable to loneliness, social isolation and other mental health problems that may arise from long-term social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Also, all over the world, some people are losing their jobs. There have been rising cases of suicide due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health experts are warning that losing everyday social connections comes with psychological costs. And those costs could go up the longer such measures drag on.

In response to the accelerating pandemic, besides Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja, a growing number of states have banned all nonessential activities and asked residents to stay home. Across the country, colleges and offices have gone entirely online; schools and restaurants are closed and nursing homes are barring visitors. Such social distancing can stop, or at least slow, the spread of COVID-19.

Several studies have shown that the most vulnerable are the elderly and health workers including doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry, and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular, such as older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions.

The WHO noted that in public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise.

Healthcare Workers At Risk Of Mental Health Problems

Although there are no statistics available yet to prove mental health issues and suicides are increasing, the discussions with health workers and others clearly point in that direction.

On March 26, 2020, an Italian nurse had committed suicide just days after testing positive for COVID-19 because she feared she had spread the disease to others.
Also, the finance minister of Germany’s Hesse state, Thomas Schaefer has committed suicide apparently after becoming “deeply worried” over how to cope with the economic fallout from the
coronavirus.

Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian that frontline health workers are going through a lot of stress and psychological trauma and Nigerians should support not criticise them.

The epidemiologist said: “Everybody should support healthcare workers. Stop criticising us in the middle of a war. You don’t do that to soldiers during a war. Help the health workers, encourage them and buy them food if possible, be kind to them. We need them now more than ever. They are the ones in the middle of everything.”

President Muhammadu Buhari in his address on Sunday said: “I will take this opportunity to thank all our public health workforce, health care workers, port health authorities and other essential staff on the frontlines of the response for their dedication and commitment. You are true heroes.”

Meanwhile, a new study has examined the mental health of nearly 1,300 healthcare workers in China who dealt with COVID-19 patients. The research looked at symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress.

New research offers insights into the mental health of healthcare workers who are directly engaged in treating COVID-19. Jianbo Lai, from the department of psychiatry at the First
Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China, is the first author of the study, which was published in the journal JAMA Network Open. Lai and colleagues set out to examine the mental health outcomes of healthcare professionals who treated patients with COVID-19 in China.

Namely, they looked at healthcare professionals who worked in 34 hospitals that had fever clinics or wards for COVID-19 patients. Frontline healthcare professionals “who are directly involved in the diagnosis, treatment and care” of people with COVID-19 were at the
heart of the researchers’ interest.

These workers may be at a heightened risk of psychological distress and other mental health problems, wrote the authors, due to the ever-increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the overwhelming workload, an information overload, and insufficient personal protective equipment and drugs. Furthermore, the authors note, existing studies show that in similar situations, healthcare workers experience stigmatization, as well as fear of infection for themselves and their families.

Lai and the team “collected demographic data and mental health measurements from 1,257 healthcare workers in 34 hospitals from January 29, 2020, to February 3, 2020.” Only hospitals with COVID-19 wards and fever clinics were eligible.

To assess the severity of symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress, the researchers used the Chinese versions of the “nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire, the seven-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale, the seven-item Insomnia Severity Index, and the 22-item Impact of Event Scale-Revised.”

The researchers applied multivariable logistic regression analysis to find the factors that are associated with mental health problems. The participation rate for the survey was 68.7 percent. More than 64 percent of the respondents were between the ages of 26 and 40 years, and over 76 percent of them were women.

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