The few recorded number and outline of cases of people who committed suicide in Botswana during the lockdown period alone as reported by the media and verified by Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) partners, speaks volumes about the severity of COVID-19, its effects, and the adverse impact on the mental wellbeing of the population.
In fact, it is understandable that fear, worry and stress are considered normal responses to perceived or real threats and apparent uncertainty. In any case, this is what seems to be obtaining universally as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe inducing elevated rates of stress and anxiety.
Add to this, the fear of contracting the virus and the daily spectacle of what is happening in countries that have been worst hit by the pandemic, proliferation of scary data and fake news about the origins of the virus on the internet and social media platforms. Moreover; there is trepidation owing to uncertainty regarding the remaining period of the State of Emergency still hovering over the heads and minds of the population with the possibility of lockdowns being reinstated.
The consequent disruption to normal life activities and routine or livelihoods, heightened levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug abuse as well as suicidal reactions and behavior are expected to continue and linger on for some time. This is attributable to the present outlook of the virus around the world and unclear state of progress in identifying sustainable interventions geared at ending the pandemic.
BONELA is therefore concerned that although these adversities have no regard for social or economic status, indications and empirical evidence points to sustained impact on the most at risk members of the population. These being people with mental disorders, LGBTIs, people with underlying conditions, young people and children as well as people with disabilities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes mental health as a state of wellbeing, in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life and can function productively and are able to contribute in a meaningful way to their communities.
As an organization that advocates for universal access to health and making health a reality for all in Botswana, BONELA believes that indeed mental health is fundamental to people’s collective and individual ability as humans to apply themselves and think, emote and interact with each other as well as live happily and profitably.
BONELA submits that whilst everyone is susceptible to the impacts of the stressful implications of the restrictive measures in place subject to the multiple social, psychological and biological factors, more can be done in terms of mental health interventions to focus on people who are more deserving; particularly, people with existing mental disorders including depression, the elderly, children, LGBTIs, people with disabilities and migrants.
Some of the specific ways in which an appropriate environment can be created for the promotion of good mental health may include;
· Following up on medical treatment for people with existing mental disorders
· Initiating psycho-social support centers for people in need of counselling and coping skills and for attending to suicide related concerns including a toll free counselling service
· Community based mental health support groups and programmes targeting vulnerable groups such as young people and children
BONELA therefore urges all stakeholders, government, private sector and Non- Governmental Organisations to mainstream mental health into their programmes and services, and to ensure access to mental health services for all regardless of health and socio-economic status.
To this end; BONELA has safe spaces in Gaborone, Francistown, Palapye, Tutume and Letlhakane where mental health services, including psychosocial support are provided.