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Makerere to start study on COVID-19 impact on mental health

The main building at Makerere.

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT |  With concerns of virus anxiety, Makerere University is embarking on study to establish how far patients who tested positive for the Coronavirus disease were affected.

Prof. Noelene Nakasujja who heads the department of psychiatry revealed yesterday evening during a Citizen’s Webinar discussion on COVID-19. 

She said they are currently still recruiting participants in the study which will be analyzing if these people will develop post-traumatic stress disorders, depression and addition to assessing the amount of stigma people still face when they are released from treatment centers.   

So far, 72 people have been discharged from various hospitals across the country but many have reported being stigmatized in their communities to the extent that some have had to change locations for fear of being harmed. The mental health experts warn that this easily make these people deteriorate into serious mental health challenges.

Apart from patients, Nakasujja said owning to the fact that COVID-19 is a new phenomenon to even health workers, a group of other researchers at the University are analyzing health workers who are involved in treatment of the viral respiratory infection to see how they perceive their jobs now and if they have really been affected.

Even as data collection for these government funded studies is still going on, Dr. Hafsa Lukwata, the Ministry of Health Mental Health Focal Person says they predict a hike in mental health problems at the end of the pandemic with challenges that have come with the disease including the unknowns about it and the lock down that continues to stress people economically.

However, even as mental health cases could be hiking already with the anxiety levels that are said to be high through anecdotal stories, mental health units at the various regional referral hospitals have been closed and turned into isolation treatment centers for COVID-19.  

Even at the National Referral in Butabika, when Uganda Radio Network – URN visited recently they had closed in patient services, handling only cases that had been there before COVID-19. Lukwata says even if it’s so, mental health services are still on-going but only at outpatient departments.

With such partial mental health services, people are encouraged to do wellness on their mental health to avoid deterioration with an overflow of negative information about COVID-19. 

Dr. Benedict Akimana, a psychiatrist based at Butabika National Mental Referral Hospital says people should try to focus on things they can change and limit the time they spend on information that could make them more anxious.

He recommended for especially children to be diverted from information that worries them as many of them might be asking a lot of questions about why they aren’t in school and why people have to wear face masks. 

On her part, Nakasujja recommends that while battling anxiety, it’s important to open up and talk to a person, to exercise and to get enough sleep. Once these fail she says one should seek help of a mental health professional.



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