Feature

Take Care Of Your Mental Health During The COVID-19 Pandemic

According to Fiji National University, Head of School of Medical Sciences, Associate Professor Dr Odille Chang, the stress reaction may also trigger more substantial use of drugs and alcohol, as well as escalations in domestic violence. A Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation report confirmed this.
05 May 2020 14:35
Take Care Of Your Mental Health During The COVID-19 Pandemic

With four COVID-19 patients yet to recover and measures still in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus, a mental health expert says mental health issues will be the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The psychological impact of lockdowns and self-isolation are many and varied.

They are dependent on factors such as one’s previous mental and physical health, coping strategies, and duration of self-isolation.

Fiji National University, Head of School of Medical Sciences, Associate Professor Dr Odille Chang said those with pre-existing mental health conditions and other marginalised populations are at particular risk of not dealing well with the current situation.

“The uncertainty related to the nature of the illness, job and financial insecurity and worries, loneliness, and physical distancing from social supports can add to the psychological distress that one experiences. Also, the myriad of information that is available both real and fake can contribute to escalating anxiety and confusion.”

She said the increasing duration of lockdowns and isolation can contribute to people developing anxiety, depression, and acute stress reactions.

In mid-April, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama had announced that Fiji’s quarantine period for COVID-19 had been extended to 28 days instead of 14. Areas which were in lockdown for 14 days, have now been extended to 28. The same applies for Fijian nationals returning from overseas.

The step was taken after Health authorities observed that the coronavirus can remain with individuals for longer than 14 days.

Dr Chang said the stress reaction may also trigger more substantial use of drugs and alcohol, as well as escalations in domestic violence.

A Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation report confirmed this.

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Domestic abuses

There was a significant increase in calls to the National Domestic Violence helpline number 1560 during the month of April.

The 1560 national helpline recorded the following statistics over the past three months:

February  – 87 calls received

March –  187 calls received

April – 527 calls received

66 per cent of the callers were women and 44 per cent were men.

54 per cent of calls were domestic violence-related

30 per cent related to COVID-19
Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Mereseini Vuniwaqa said: “Close to 50 per cent of cases reported are linked to COVID-19 such as restrictions of movement and economic strains on families.

“Close to three-quarters of women reported physical violence.”

The Ministry has formed and led two working groups, the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Working Group and the COVID-19  Response Gender Working Group.

Response

A resource kit to guide frontline responders on responding to gender-based violence and child protection cases during COVID-19 has been developed.

A rapid internal gender analysis on the impact of COVID-19 on all Fijian women and girls is a work in progress.

“To formulate policies and programmes that are not gender-blind, it is important to understand the different ways that the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic crisis may affect gender equality outcomes. The impact of the virus is not gender-blind; therefore the response to it should not be either. We are doing this to ensure that recovery is centred on the principle of leaving no one behind,” Ms Vuniwaqa said.

Despite the rise in cases of violence against women and children, women remain key contributors and front-liners in the COVID-19 fight.

Dr Chang also highlighted that with school closures, there may be surges in child abuse.

“Those at risk of abuse have limited opportunities for seeking help during times of self-isolation/quarantine and curfews. So it is important that there are systems in place that balance the need for social distancing with the availability of safe places for those at risk.

“ The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful event that is being experienced by everyone and in our setting with limited mental health resources, it is important that community support, follow-up, and care is given to those known to be at increased risk of developing mental health issues or being abused,” Dr Chang said.

Edited by Jonathan Bryce

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