GOVERNMENT has started training mental health officers countrywide to ensure people get counselling services during this period when Covid-19 is wreaking havoc in communities.
Medical experts say health workers should offer basic psychological support to people who would have tested positive for Covid-19 and screen those who show signs of mental health challenges.
It is believed that rising cases of coronavirus are causing fear and anxiety in societies.
Older persons, care providers and people with underlying health conditions — who are understood to be susceptible to the disease — have been the most affected groups.
Deputy director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Sacrifice Chirisa said soaring cases of the virus can cause psychological stress even on non-Covid-19 patients.
“The psychological first aid is a way of providing psychosocial support in a very short space of time and it allows people to respond, especially when the need is great and more so in our country where there are limited specialised people,” said Dr Chirisa.
“So because of the high cases of Covid-19 and high levels of psychological stress even to non-Covid-19 patients, we needed to increase the number of people to handle such cases.
“As the Ministry of Health and Child Care, with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO), we have chosen the psychological first aid as a strategy to be able to provide help to as many people. So we started the training of mental health officers around the country.
“The ministry will be going to specific areas such as the hotspots to ensure that people get the support and the counselling they need.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Farai Bere said mental health issues cannot be ignored as individuals and families are struggling with the effects of living in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is important for us to note that not everyone who is going to test positive for Covid-19 will have psychological difficulties: some people will do well, but, as we have seen from research from other countries and as we are seeing from what is happening here in Zimbabwe, the majority of people will have psychological difficulties,” said Dr Bere.
“I would recommend that we have basic psychological first aid for anyone who tests positive . . . other people are going to have more severe mental health issues like anxiety disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It then becomes important for people who are working in health facilities to be able to screen for mental health difficulties and to make sure that people get the interventions they need.”
Special attention, he added, should be given to individuals who were already dealing with other conditions before the Covid-19 pandemic, as most struggle to cope.
“What we are seeing is that people with underlying conditions or who might have been dealing with other conditions before Covid-19 are more anxious than the general population because they are scared that they might not do well if they catch the virus,” she said.
“We anticipate that as we are dealing with different populations they will be able to get the interventions that are appropriate for what they are feeling; it is a highly emotional condition and changes the way we think and behave.”
As a way of dealing with the pandemic, many countries around the world, including Zimbabwe, enforced lockdowns and mandatory quarantine.
These measures, however, have disrupted routines and livelihoods, elevated stress levels due to loneliness as millions have had to isolate, while depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and suicidal behaviour have also risen.
In March, WHO released a six-page document with messages targeting various groups such as people with underlying conditions, frontline health workers, people in isolation, carers of children and the general population, among others, in anticipation of the mental toll that could be caused by the pandemic.