Well before the arrival of coronavirus, Botswana was already struggling to cope with the increase of mental health issues, especially among the youth.
Whilst the country was starting to tackle the public health problem, the arrival of Covid-19 is now threatening to reverse all the gains made.
Executive director of the youth mental health service Oracle Global, Thabang Kgosi is issuing a warning to authorities that mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are likely to spike among Batswana in the coming weeks because of uncertainty created by the pandemic.
Speaking to this publication the mental health researcher says Botswana will see a lot of new cases of mental health issues and mental illness appearing even in people that previously hadn’t experienced this.
“Since most people would be confined to one small environment for weeks and heavily stressed due to concerns about security at work and financials — all these are factors that are highly likely to pose a risk for people who are already suffering from mental health,” he says.
He also says young and adult people’s mental health needs during the COVID-19 response require urgent attention. Following a directive from the government for all non-essential services — including bars, pubs and clubs to shut their doors for at least 30 days or more if the government revises the dates, Kgosi says their models show that there is likely to be a surge in the use of cannabis and cigarettes.
“Since bars and clubs are shut, many young people are left with no other option than to drink at home. This is a time of great social anxiety and stress as a result of increased pressure at home,” he says.
Over the weekend there was widespread panic buying of alcohol in Botswana, with some people even posting videos on Facebook with fridges filled with alcohol. Kgosi says people use alcohol to reduce stress, but he also warns that heavy drinking can cause anxiety.
“Since this is a time when a lot of people are vulnerable, i urge all people especially those suffering from mental health problems to maintain their routines, exercise more, watch what they eat and to be cautious of other substances,” he says.
He went further to warn that exacerbated drinking affects physical and mental health and worsens anxiety. He also says the mental health crisis will be severe and prolonged and it’s going to affect a very large number of people after the shutdown. “I’m also calling for a national mental health strategy in response to COVID-19,” he says adding that people with existing problems are more likely to get worse and this also “increases the risk of suicide.”
“We will have a good picture after the shutdown is over,” says Kgosi.