As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on everyone, experts have warned that a continuous total lockdown could leave the people with mental illness.
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT)), as well as Lagos and Ogun States, have been in lockdown since March 30 when President Muhammadu Buhari imposed restrictions of movement on the FCT and the two states. Several states have also imposed stay-at-home orders on residents.
The lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT will be partially lifted from Monday, May 4, but a curfew remains in place as well as the ban on social and religious gatherings.
Since the outbreak of the virus in Nigeria, its effects and efforts to contain it have disrupted the economic and social lives of the people. It has consequently plunged many into poverty, even as many companies and businesses are at the risk of collapse. In all of these, thousands of citizens remain at the receiving end.
To overcome the challenges, the specialists have recommended a multi-dimensional approach. They believe that beyond the medical intervention, there should be timely psycho-social responses to mitigate the negative effects of the lockdown.
A lecturer at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Ogunnubi, said that there were so many ways the economic shutdown could tell on the mental balance of Nigerians. He explained that there were different emotional and psychological consequences on anyone, who was hitherto working, but suddenly asked to stay at home and be doing nothing.
He argued that social distancing was anti-mental health, especially in a country like Nigeria that thrives in communal living and social integration. He said that for a sound mental status and in the management of mental illnesses, psychiatrists preach social connection. He said the world itself is already too distant, warning that loneliness, which is being promoted at the moment, causes depression and suicide.
He said that the number one priority of every human being is to survive. He pointed out that when an individual’s daily income is cut short, the survival instinct is punctured. And when this happens, he warned that people can begin to display their anger to the detriment of people around them as well as wreaking public havoc.
He said that the fact that there is no assurance that many companies would be able retain their staff after the Coronavirus crisis might be over is enough to send many employees into emotional trauma.
He said: “Let us get it clear. We are not talking of the situation affecting people who already tested positive for COVID-19, but the average Nigerian. Number one, you are taking a source of livelihood from someone and leaving the same person with nothing to depend on. We already believe in this principle of everyone going out every day to look for daily meal. This is the kind of jobs that the majority of Nigerians survive on.
“People are already displaying their anger as we could see happening in so many areas. It is at a period like this that the people will now remember that they don’t have good leaders even if the leaders have been good. You might say that it is just few weeks of the lockdown, but the survival instinct in Maslow Theory must come to play. It is sheer displacement that has visited so many Nigerians with this lockdown.
“Another thing that will affect the psychological balance of people is that they are no longer sure of their jobs. We now have some companies telling their staff to stay at home and the same companies devising other means to get the job done. Even the post COVID-19, how many people can actually retain their jobs because companies will surely downsize? Economic depression is already lurking around.
“These uncertainties can trigger acute stress, sleeplessness and depression. All these are major issues in mental health management. But it is one of the things that many people are not paying attention to at the moment.
“Apart from the above mentioned factors, some people are in abusive marriages or relationships. Some men go physical on their partners at any little provocation. One of the ways such people have been avoiding conflict in their homes is to go out to their places of work and perhaps come back very late. But now they are faced with that “monster” of a wife or of a husband and there is suddenly nowhere to run to. In some cases, the children are the “monsters”. Schools have been closed, so the children are also at home. They have no regards for their parents. They could be on drugs and other self-enhancing substances. Let’s not forget that there could be nowhere to get these substances, therefore, they turn the anger on their parents and turn them into punching bags. We have spiral cascades of ugly events going on in many homes at the moment.
“However, we are now preaching that social distance is not emotional distance. That is why you see people making video calls, chatting and playing music. But in Nigeria, not many people will be able to buy data bundle to remain active online because there is no palliative for them.”
The specialist stressed that the best way to defeat COVID-19 in Nigeria is to do everything possible in preventing it and sending it packing so that Nigerians could as soon as possible return to their normal way of living. He said that the pandemic was not just about symptoms of physical manifestations, but emotional and psychological symptoms. He, therefore, called for a psycho-social support.
Ogunnubi, who was a guest at a television programme in Lagos, added: “The truth is that in this fight against COVID-19, we must never attempt to blindly copy the western world. We are a peculiar set of people with different behavioural pattern and thinking. We should deploy local resources and local mindset to tackle the pandemic. If we see that they are doing lockdown in the United States and we are rushing to do it, it will not work if we don’t bring in other preventive measures.
“Another note of warning I will sound is that we should not think that we can handle the spread if it blows out of proportion. If you bring in ten million ventilators, how many anaesthetists and technicians do we have? If you give me a ventilator to work with as a psychiatrist, all the patients will die because I am not trained for it. Except I will be given marathon training but are we ready for that?
“You can’t lock people in their homes and don’t give them palliatives. And to give these palliatives, we must get the local and right people to distribute them. Nigerians should understand that prevention is better and cheaper in this campaign. Massive education is key in achieving a huge success while the virus lasted.”
On people who are infected but are refusing to step forward and present themselves for treatment, “we are appealing to the conscience of these people to make their history known. By doing so, they are not just doing themselves well but their family members and the society.”
He reassured Nigerians that COVID-19 is not a death sentence as many people misconstrue it.
Also at the programme, a professor of Otorhinolaryngology, Titus Ibekwe agreed with Ogunnubi that massive education, especially at the grassroots, is important in winning the Coronavirus battle. He said that the fear of the unknown drives people to do the wrong thing, including stigmatising those who have tested positive.
“We must be able to speak to everyone in the language that they understand so that everybody can understand the nature of the illness better. The traditional and religious leaders, who are always listened to by their people, have to be at the forefront of this campaign. The virus is not as deadly as many people see it. I am not saying that COVID-19 is not dangerous, but less than five per cent of the people that contract the virus succumb to it.”