The deadly impact of the pandemic on mental health

Friday August 27 2021

Globally, the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing mental health problems. PHOTO | FILE


The worries and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic have had a profound impact on mental health. Experts are saying the effects will become even more profound in the coming years.

Suicide cases in Rwanda are on the rise, with a certain building in a busy bus terminal area of Nyabugogo being referred to as the building where people go to die, after two men jumped to their death in the past two months.

The suicide mortality rate (per 100,000 population) in Rwanda stood at 5.6 percent in 2019, according to the World Bank. Uganda's suicide rate for 2019 was 4.60, a 4.55 percent increase from 2018. In Kenya, almost 500 people committed suicide in the three months to June, more than the whole of 2020, according to the Kenyan police.

Globally, the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing mental health problems, but it has also driven other people into developing mental health conditions.

Chantal Mudahogora, a mental health therapist in Kigali, said the brain is an organ that is structured, so anything that goes beyond or overwhelms that structure becomes difficult to adjust to.

“Everyone had plans that involved school, traveling, investing, getting married, or starting new projects, and all of this came to a standstill when the pandemic broke out. People were thrust into a life of fear and isolation, and this sudden shift shocks the brain, which is a gateway to all sorts of mental health problems,” she said.


She added that the fact that we don’t even know when this will end compounds the problem.

“Usually when you are going through some stress the brain can adapt in the short term, but when it goes on for long the brain fails to get a formulae to deal with the prolonged stress, which turns into a crisis,” said Mudahogora.

Experts say alcoholism and substance abuse are likely to increase as people from all age groups try to cope with mental health setbacks, with increasing cases of headaches, insomnia, changes in behaviour, anger, paranoia and fear.

These conditions are related to restrictive measures put in place during the pandemic coupled with, for example, loneliness, job and income loss, bereavement, and the direct or indirect impacts of Covid-19, which has led to increased levels of anxiety.

The pandemic has also been shown to affect subsections of the population differently, for example, front-line workers, those hospitalised by Covid-19. Disruptions to school routines and interactions with peers has seen learners suffer from stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.

Children whose parents contracted the virus and had to be self-isolated or quarantined suffered emotionally and psychologically.

Venantie Uwishaka, a family therapist in Kigali, said the virus and all the ways it has disrupted life has had deep, psychological effects on children. There are also those who have lost loved ones to the virus and are dealing with grief.