Health & Fitness

Watch out for mental disorder in pandemic

Watch out for mental disorder in pandemic
Watch out for mental disorder in pandemic. PHOTO | COURTESY 

“It is my fourth straight month working from home ever since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. I feel mentally distressed; does this have anything to do with staying in-doors for far too long?”


The simple answer to your question is that in all probability, you are a normal person in an abnormal environment. Many people have reacted in the same way to what is clearly a new and abnormal way of life for most global citizens.

This view is supported by a World Health Organisation report published in May 2020, in which WHO stated that the number of persons expected to develop mental disorders would steadily rise as the world continued to battle the Coronavirus. The report went on to state that there were signs that the rise in the kind of mental distress that you are going through would translate to mental illness, evidenced by the already increased cases of alcohol abuse as well as domestic violence. Depression and anxiety disorders were on the rise with many people complaining of sleep problems and a sense of hopelessness, fear and despair.

The report went on to urge governments and other stake holders to put in place measures that would ‘flatten’ the curve of the anticipated increase in cases. To put it bluntly, the flattening of the curve efforts must apply to both Covid-19 as well as mental illness. For the removal of doubt, the report explained that the increase or new cases would be in people who were, before the pandemic completely well and healthy, much as was the case with you.


In other words, these are people who were not in the horizon for the development of mental illness. It is however true that that some people with existing mental health needs and were stable before the pandemic could cross over to relapse either due to the stress of the scourge, or because of reduced access to care. Reports of increased family tension and cases of domestic violence also point in the same direction.

Last year, in his Madaraka day speech in Narok, President Uhuru Kenyatta, spoke for millions of silent Kenyans who live with mental illness daily. He spoke of people living without hope because of depression and urged them to speak out rather than die by suicide. At another level he spoke of violence at home and how Kenyans’ were killing each other in their home. The President then directed that the relevant arms of government to put in place measures to deal with this challenge.

In November of the same year, Cabinet resolved to form a taskforce to look into the challenge and in December, the team was launched. The report was submitted to the government in July 2020 and was the culmination of the process of collecting and collating the views of Kenyans from different parts of the country. The report is available at the Ministry of Health website, and details the findings of the taskforce and its recommendations.

During the public hearings, and also from the written memoranda, it was clear that the challenge posed by mental illness has permeated all corners of the country and that Kenyans are suffering, Just like the President had observed. In addition to the heavy burden of disease, they spoke of the poor resource allocation which in part was driven by the stigma associated with mental ill health.

The people also urged the team to report and make recommendations of the frequent political clashes that take place in relation to general elections. They spoke passionately about the distress experienced due to politics and asked that a solution be found as a means of promoting mental health.

Poverty and youth unemployment were the other social factors that featured as causes of poor mental health. Like you, Kenyans had observed that periods of stress of whatever origin could and indeed does lead to significant mental illness.

Observations from elsewhere are also in support of your observation. The two world wars for example lead to an increase in mental disorders in particular Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in many people who experienced near death during the wars. In a similar way, periods of harsh economic times such as the great depression, or the 2008 financial crisis have led to an increase in the cases of depression and suicide. So, and in specific answer to your question, the challenges before all of us and that have led to what some have called the new normal will in all probability lead to much distress, and in turn an increase in mental disorders.