Observatory: Let’s not forget about mental well being

Thandizo Kawerama

The lockdown caused by COVID-19 is obviously going to have a lot of economic implications over a very long term. As stated by the minister of finance, our economy is estimated to be losing N$285 million per day. A stimulus package has been prepared and I think it’s great to see steps being taken toward providing a financial cushion. I do however believe we also need to put urgency on preparing for the social problems that will most certainly increase in light of our new reality.

People don’t always react positively to change. In the face of a global pandemic that has the entire world feeling anxious about the future, people will begin to express their pain and frustration in unhealthy ways. Substance abuse is the first option for many. Our country already has an alcohol consumption problem, but when the economic effects of the lockdown start to hit, reaching for the bottle will be the first thing many people do to cope. This has already happened in the Western Cape of South Africa where people have been looting liquor stores during their lockdown. This just goes to show that during difficult times, priorities can shift from survival to looking for a quick fix to ease anger and pain.

Inequality in education is also rearing its ugly head during lockdown. Universities have started announcing commencement dates for online learning. There are students who were dependent on the internet facilities on campus and were forced to leave. Many of these students turned to education as their only hope. While universities are trying to accommodate all students, disadvantaged students will not be able to participate in online learning because as somebody said on Twitter, ‘they will sell those laptops first to feed themselves’. Many students are not living in environments where they can actively participate in classes from home. There will be students whose dreams will be stripped away from them because of the lockdown, and their disappointment and frustration should be taken seriously.

We need to make the mental health of the citizens of our country a priority. Namibians are not machines that can be switched and off at any given moment to keep the economy moving. The changes within the economy will trickle down to more social problems, as people will desperately try to scramble for some type of control in their lives during this time of uncertainty.

We need to be prepared for frustrated citizens who are willing to go to extremes to voice their concerns and express their frustrations. Our SADC neighbour Malawi already received a taste of this. The generally peaceful nation had citizens protesting against the announcement of a 21 day lockdown, and the government was forced to halt their plans. From the outside looking in, protesting against something that is meant to keep you safe during a global pandemic may seem nonsensical, but an understanding of the economic state of the country will help paint a different picture. People do not want to lose their jobs and will even fight against a preventative measure set in place to stop the spread of the virus to protect the little that they have.

Our peace loving Namibia is not exempt from citizen unrest. If we do not prioritise the mental health of our people and make sure that everyone has at least one hot meal per day, our country will suffer the consequences in the long run. People who have lost hope and are living in anger and frustration cannot function properly, let alone work towards rebuilding the economy. Therefore alongside the economic stimulus package, we need to prioritise the social and emotional well being of our citizens while we still can.

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