Suicides could spike amidst Covid-19

16 April 2020 | Health

Windhoek • [email protected]

The economic and emotional battering from the fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to increased suicides and mental health problems in Namibia.
“Namibia already has a high rate of suicides and any stressful events can easily push the rate higher,” counsellors at the Lifeline/Childline clinic cautioned.
A 2018 study concluded that Namibia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, ranked fourth in Africa and eleventh globally.
Psychologist Shawn Whittaker warns there is a possibility suicides will spike due to the link between depression and feelings of hopelessness arising from unemployment, which many fear is set to rise. “We should prepare ourselves for a long period of mourning and emotional depression as a country.”

Moreover, as deaths from Covid-19 elsewhere rise, “many families and communities will go into states of depression. Tragically, this is going to last for many months,” Whittaker said.
Ben Cloete of Lifeline/Childline warned that for many the future looks bleak and uncertain, “which makes most people anxious and to those with pre-existing mental health conditions, this can be devastating.”
Cloete said the economic fallout will be especially hard for vulnerable families, who already felt the brunt of social-economic exclusion before the pandemic. “Generally, the unavoidable social isolation will exacerbate levels of anxiety of not knowing when all this is going to end and what life will be like after this.”
Whittaker warned that the most marginalised and vulnerable will be hardest hit, including the elderly, people living with disabilities, the poor, and those living alone or already struggling with mental health conditions.
Mental health workers and mothers forced to work while children are home alone are also vulnerable.
Clinical psychologist Heidi Burmeister-Nel warned that economic pressures are one of the top three stressors anyone can experience, “and this is not a problem that will be resolved in a few weeks”. Nevertheless, the experts agree there are steps individuals and families can take to ease the toll of the pandemic’s side-effects.

Burmeister-Nel said while it is difficult to make accurate predictions on how the nation will be impacted long-term, there is a silver lining to this unchartered territory. “I do hope and believe that the feeling of solidarity amongst many Namibians can make us more emphatic and compassionate towards each other. This in itself will or can be a tremendous benefit amid the darkness we are facing.”
Burmeister-Nel added that during times of crisis people respond differently, depending on their resilience, resources, support levels, personality. “Some will be mobilised into action in the face of distress, while others will be paralysed. People have different stress saturation points.”
Clinical psychologist Cynthia Beukes of Bel Esprit pointed out that predicting the future is tough under current conditions, but the uncertainty offers opportunities. “This may be an opportunity for us to discover our strengths or this may expose our weaknesses.”
She said many people will be bogged down with fear and anxiety but a shift in thinking could help. “It will be beneficial to shift our focus from what we don’t have, to what it is we do have. What it is that we can control. From that, we can derive strength to make even the most difficult times more manageable.”

Among the strategies suggested by Lifeline/Childline are for families to encourage emotional bonding and support, as well as communication during their time at home. The help centre encourages keeping in touch as much as possible with friends and family and to encourage sharing feelings of anxiety and worries, as well as doing exercise, storytelling and other activities that bring joy.
Beukes underlined that daily routines that prioritise mental health and self-care are key now. She said people should try to refrain from watching too much news and avoid fake news, as this can add to anxiety. “The quarantine is an opportunity to live healthy, to catch up on sleep, and it’s a great time to stop smoking and drinking,” Whittaker added.
Burmeister-Nel urged people to stay calm and to understand that “there is no normal. It is not a linear process, it will be mixed. It is all part of the process of dealing with uncertain times.”
She urged people to take responsibility for their feelings of anxiety and uncertainty consistently. “Make a conscious decision to not spend unnecessary thoughts on what is out of your control, and actively take charge of what you can.”
The specialists also advised that this is a time many could spend time on things they have never had time for, to help turn the self-isolation and uncertainty into a meaningful experience.

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