Mental Distress Worsens During COVID-19 Second Wave

Dr. Hafisa attributes the mental distress witnessed in this season to a combination of factors including more deaths unlike the previous wave last year.

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The mental distress in the country is worse compared to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Hafisa Lukwata, the Head of the Mental Health Division in Ministry of Health has revealed. Mental and psychosocial distress is evidently affecting COVID-19-19 patients, caregivers and medical workers among others.

According to World Health Organization, COVID-19 is associated with neurological and mental complications, such as agitation, stroke, insomnia, loss of sense of taste and smell, anxiety and depression. Dr. Hafisa attributes the mental distress witnessed in this season to a combination of factors including more deaths unlike the previous wave last year.

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To strengthen mental health and psycho-social support as part of COVID-19 response, in 2020, health authorities increased mental and psycho-social support personnel and funding.  A team of 230 psycho-social workers across the country received training to ensure mental health and psycho-social support services at each COVID-19 Treatment Center.

Despite this, some of the COVID-19 patients who visited the center didn’t get a chance to receive such support. Moses Balok, a COVID-19 survivor who tested positive from Makerere University Hospital notes that psycho-social support is very crucial. He explains that suffering from COVID-19 was a very frustrating experience for him and had it not been for the constant emotional support from his friends, he thought he would die.  

Moses recounts that he received the news of his positive status amidst panic and thought about money for treatment and whether or not he would recover. His worst moments of anxiety came when he was physically weak and could not do anything. The rising temperature worried him more and the physical pain he went through was almost unbearable.

He attributes his recovery to friends that checked on him and encouraged him to keep a strong mind and battle the sickness. Allan Mutagubya from Kalangala notes that after his diagnosis at Kalangala Health Center IV, he was placed under home-based care treatment and promised to be checked on later.  

However, he notes that no one ever followed him up.

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While most of the COVID-19 survivors are relieved to know that they have fully recovered, stigma awaits them within their community. Mutagubya notes that after recovery, he was shocked to hear someone a week later tell him that the entire village neighbourhood was cautioning their families to keep away from him claiming that he was a COVID-19 patient.

According to Dr. Hafisa, COVID-19 patients are supposed to get psycho-social and mental health support from the moment they are admitted to the treatment center until sometime after discharge.

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However, she notes that while that is the ideal, lack of sufficient funding for the mental and psycho-social support program during COVID-19 has led to under staffing in comparison to the overwhelming number of patients at facilities. Besides, the ideal follow up program too has not been possible for this second wave.

Mandatory sessions are being organized for medical workers attending to COVID-19 patients to help them cope with the overwhelming season. Morris Tukei, a clinical psychologist at International Hospital Kampala advises that people should individually take care of their mental health by checking on sources of fear like social media.

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