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Mental Health in the Times of Corona

As I write, Zimbabwe is currently in its official fourteenth day of the Lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hard to imagine that about 3 billion people globally are under lock-down/quarantine as a result of the coronavirus.

A couple of weeks before Zimbabwe’s Lockdown, an unexpected surge in interest about natural and traditional medicine occurred. As folks contemplated how best to safeguard themselves and their loved ones, heightened awareness of the limited capacity and resources of our medical facilities was palatable. There has been and continues to be videos and messages offering advice on how best to manage the coronavirus in absence of conventional medical care. And really, what ordinary Zimbabwean would have access to a ventilator, intravenous vitamin C or any other medical intervention available to “fight this virus” when there are barely any masks, gloves and sanitizer to be found.

While we are laser focused on our physical health and the impact of this virus, we may not yet fully realize the effects on our mental health. What will be all the casualties and costs after things “settle down”? How will we fare with the post-traumatic effects of this global catastrophe? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one out of every three women world-wide experiences physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Globally, Gender-Based-Violence (GBV) numbers seem to have tripled or quadrupled. So,even the challenges reporting abuse multiply when victims are locked down with their abusers.

There has been a great debate on whether physical distancing is really helping Africans. When considering how densely packed some communities are, with families sharing one room and, perhaps, a community bathroom with up to 6-10 other families, physical distancing is less choice and more circumstance. How effective is physical distancing when communities have 1.) little to no access to clean water (the lack of water in Zimbabwe has been a long-term issue for years) and, 2.) an informal market that necessitates breadwinners to defy lockdown by leaving their home to obtain supplies for their families? With the quarantine stretching beyond a month for some, while longer for many, issues of isolation and anxiety will need addressing.

It is difficult to assess the real picture of the impact of coronavirus in Zimbabwe. As it is hard to know what information is true, we also cannot know the resulting impact of preventative plans until the wave of infections hits us. This uncertainty is certainly causing a great deal of anxiety and fear. We look at the number of deaths and infections in other parts of world, complicated by the tragically disproportionate number of people of color dying, and wonder can and will we survive this pandemic? Especially when coronavirus arrives like an unwelcome guest who does not want to leave. We already have significant, insurmountable concerns before the arrival of COVID-19. Thus, dealing with this virus and its aftermath seems unimaginable. Aside from the economic, health, social and psychological challenges, we need to address our concerns regarding food and water security. The result will undoubtedly cause mental health issues for many of us.

There is a rise in mental health concerns amongst clients in my holistic practice. Likewise there has been increased concern within our mental wellness initiatives,Taking off the Mask (Men) and Taking off the Veil (Women). Most issues pertain to depression, anxiety and loneliness resulting from physical distancing, isolation, and separation from support systems. The continuous consumption of news, speculation and theory about the pandemic has become a source for panic attacks, insomnia, fatigue and feelings of hopelessness. Meditation, deep belly breathing, journaling, a reduction of media intake, chamomile or lemon balm tea and supplements to support the nervous system are simple, effective suggestions to offer some relief. In some instances, professional counselling and support will be essential. While we continue to make strides to increase awareness in how we treat and support those with mental illness, there is still significant stigma around mental health issues. We, however, continue providing access to mental health wellness, which will be essential to our national and global healing.

Incidentally, an increase in allergies, colds, coughs and the flu has led to a great deal of distress, confusion and uncertainty as people are unsure whether or not they have been infected with the coronavirus.

Local indigenous herbs gain popularity as folks look for alternatives to support their immune system. Indigenous herbs such as baobab (adansonia digitate), black jack (bidens pilosa), guava leaves (psidium guajava), resurrection bush (myrothamnus flabellifolius), zumbani tea (Fever Tea Tree - lippia javanica ), ginger, (zingiber officinale) and moringa (moringa oleifera ) are amongst some. Additional interest and use of common herbs such as wormwood (artemisia absinthium), dark nasturtium (tropaecolum majus), elderberry (sambucus nigra), echinacea (echinacea purpurea), turmeric (curcuma longa), thyme (thymus vulgaris) and garlic (allium sativum) have also increased.

The fragility of our economies, communities and our state of health in regards to our body, mind and spirit cannot be underestimated. We are certainly living in strange and difficult times. While I offer recommendations to support mental well-being and general health during these stressful times, I wonder if we will be mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared for the aftermath of this pandemic. Many looming questions arise. What is the new normal for our communities? How will we facilitate healing and health care, in order to bounce back and rebuild? What will our psychological state be, following loss of family, friends, employment, security and life as we knew it? Can and will we bounce back? If so, will we be open to expanding the means of containing and taming coronavirus - especially in places where medical resources and capacity are limited? What methods will we need to incorporate to ensure there are some successes in creating new realities and address the post-traumatic of COVID-19? Now, more than ever, we will need to release emotional turmoil during these unprecedented times to prevent dire ramifications. This is a time of crisis and with mental health issues, we need to meet people where they are to provide critical care and support.

Dr Nyarai Paweni (TMPC Zimbabwe– Member, ND-USA, ILANP – Illinois Association of Naturopathic Physicians), Author, Speaker, Mentor, Founder & Owner of Sage ReStorative Health, holistic and wellness center ~ e: and Co-Founder of Taking off the Mask @FB/IG: TOTMZW, Taking off the Veil IG:@TOTVZW1, FB:@TOTVZW ~ Zimbabwe: +263719253769 ~ USA: +1 312-772-2758 ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram

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