- A mental health crisis has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Changed lifestyle pattern had a negative effect on mental health and quality of life of Kenyans, both adults and children.
- Previous studies have highlighted the importance of healthy lifestyles as they are crucial in maintaining and improving physical and mental health and improving the quality of life.
The break out of the Covid-19 pandemic brought about changes on the way people live, their mental health, well-being among other effects. Or is it?
Well, the first Covid-19 case to be reported in Kenya since the beginning of the outbreak in China in December 2019 was confirmed on March 12, 2020. Since then, things never remained the same.
As of Monday November 22, 2021, 258 million cases of Covid-19 had been recorded globally, with 5.15 million deaths. Kenya has reported about 255,000 coronavirus infections and 5,300 coronavirus-related deaths.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Kenyan government to close schools between March 2020 and September 2020 for Grades Four, Eight and Form 4, and up to December 2020 for all other classes.
However, the pandemic did not only affect the schools, which have hence resumed but with an amended academic calendar, but also affected the lifestyle of Kenyans, their mental health, and the well-being of both adults and children.
The COVID-19 pandemic has lead to isolation because people have to remain at home to prevent infection, but this is likely to have a detrimental effect on the physical and mental health of individuals.
Previous studies have highlighted the importance of healthy lifestyles as they are crucial in maintaining and improving physical and mental health and improving the quality of life.
You can all agree that the Covid-19 pandemic has totally affected the way Kenyans used to live. Isn’t it? The government announced several measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Shortly after the schools were closed, a nationwide dusk to dawn curfew was imposed in Kenya. This was followed by a lockdown in major cities of Nairobi in Mombasa, whereby Kenyans were not allowed to enter or leave the said cities.
As a result, Kenyans found it hard to adapt to the new way of living, since they were now required to be in their houses by 7pm, and only get out after 4am. Bars and restaurants were as well closed, and every Kenyan, apart from children, have been putting on face masks to protect themselves from contracting the coronavirus.
Washing of hands each and every time, or using an alcohol-based sanitizer has been a norm. Or is it?
All these measures have hence changed the way people used to live. Initially, people could freely visit each other and share whatever they have, but the covid-19 measures required that one stays at home, and always maintains a 1 metre social distance whenever he/she is in public.
People have also struggled to adjust their normal daily schedules from working until late and some even overnight, to being at home by the time that had been set under the curfew.
Currently, some of these measures have been relaxed, but it has proved to be hard for Kenyans to go back to normal.
The Covid-19 pandemic is still here with us, and this fact has made Kenyans to continue observing the measures that have been put by the government to curb the spread of the pandemic.
The pandemic has also brought about significant changes in daily living patterns among adults in Kenya. With changed daily schedules caused by social distancing, the closure of colleges, universities and shops, there were changes in how Kenyans preoccupied themselves, in which they tended to spend less time on social activities, leisure, and education.
Eating habits also changed during the pandemic as a result of the measures announced by the government to curb spread of the pandemic. Do you remember how Kenyans were thrown into panic shopping with rumors that the country was going to witness a total lockdown?
Well, most Kenyans rushed to buy foods that cannot go bad easily. As a result, most of them consumed significantly more carbohydrates and minerals and significantly less alcohol, since bars and restaurants had been closed. Initially, alcohol was allowed to be sold as takeaways only, then the sell was banned before it was allowed again .
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Changed lifestyle pattern had a negative effect on mental health and quality of life of Kenyans, both adults and children.
In particular, government actions related to social distancing have been proved to be effective public health measures; however, they could also cause health problems other than COVID-19 infection such as psychological distress and fear.
Health must be considered in these circumstances since there is no reliable cure for this disease yet, and apart from vaccination, its resolution remains unpredictable.
Therefore, it is essential to prioritize the preventive approach as practiced in Kenya to stay protected and maintain health and wellbeing.
A mental health crisis has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, Kenya was ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, which triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression and substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental wellbeing.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that measures such as those introduced by Kenyan government to curb the spread of the pandemic can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse.
It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
Children and young people
UNICEF in its flagship project on October 5, 2021 warned that children and young people could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come.
The report details that children and young people carried the burden of mental health conditions without significant investment in addressing them even before Covid-19 pandemic.
“It has been a long, long 18 months for all of us – especially children. With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions, children have spent indelible years of their lives away from family, friends, classrooms, play – key elements of childhood itself,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
In Kenya, UNICEF supports Childline Kenya, which takes calls from children and young people in need of help, including for mental health issues.
The number of calls to the service more than doubled following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNICEF funded an increase in the number of counsellors and promoted the service through a nationwide campaign, ‘Spot it, Stop it’.
As schools re-opened, UNICEF worked with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to send messages to over 300,000 teachers on how to deal with the impact of COVID-19 and prolonged school closures on children’s psychosocial wellbeing.
As COVID-19 heads into its third year, the impact on children and young people’s mental health and well-being continues to weigh heavily.
According to the latest available data from UNICEF, globally, at least 1 in 7 children has been directly affected by lockdowns, while more than 1.6 billion children have suffered some loss of education.
The disruption to routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, is leaving many young people feeling afraid, angry, and concerned for their future.