Navigating mental health challenges during the pandemic

Seek help as soon as you experience things that are overwhelming you emotionally.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Seek help as soon as you experience things that are overwhelming you emotionally.
  • For example, it is normal to feel anxious.
  • But when the anxiety reaches a point where it affects how you work or hinders you from achieving a specific goal, then that’s a sign that you should seek assistance immediately.

Five months after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country, its negative impact on many Kenyans’ mental health continues unabated. 

Economic hardships characterised by daily furloughs, job losses, and closing down of businesses have become an everyday reality and a tall order for many families. 

Margaret Njoroge, a Consultant Psychologist in Nairobi, spoke to Life&Style about the mental health situation in Kenya. 


Why is mental health a more significant concern now than before?

You see, people were not used to spending much time at home together. The containment measures taken to curb the pandemic have made more people stay at home, which has triggered an increase in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

If someone had underlying mental issues, their condition has been triggered by higher anxiety and depression levels. 

It is normal to feel anxious.

But mental health issues have always been there. It’s just that the socio-economic impact brought about by Covid-19 has intensified it. Many people have lost their income and do not have ready alternatives. 


When should one suffering from a mental health issue seek expert help?

Do so as soon as you experience things that are overwhelming you emotionally. For example, it is normal to feel anxious. But when the anxiety reaches a point where it affects how you work or hinders you from achieving a specific goal, then that’s a sign that you should seek assistance immediately. 

Are there adequate structures in place in our country to empower people to seek help? 

Mmh, you know that there is the kind of stigma associated with seeking mental health help when it comes to our society. Many people shy away from asking for help, primarily if their challenges relate to Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). For example, if it’s a young boy or girl who has been sexually assaulted, you find that people want to solve the matter quietly without seeking professional assistance. Doing this is usually aimed at protecting the family name. At the family level, I think we lack the right structures to help mental health victims. 

Also, there are places with legal structures that are functional, while in other areas, it’s usually the case of “you against me” for the victim. Hence, people who have gone through such traumatic experiences, such as rape or sodomy, find it hard to find help. 

What should be done? 

There should be more awareness about where one can seek help with mental issues, regardless of the triggering factors. Fully- functional toll-free call centres should also be set up by the government to encourage people to speak up and link up with mental health professionals with ease. 

Who forms the most significant percentage of your patients, especially during this time of public health crisis?

I get to see many patients of all ages and gender. However, most of them are girls and women. Female victims readily seek help with mental health issues. 

Is there an explanation for that?

As I said, there is a lot of stigma around mental health in our society. Men tend to act stoically and believe that they don’t need help, which isn’t always the case. Anyone can develop mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, or depression. I advocate that everyone seeks assistance regardless of their economic status or gender. That is the only way we can lead healthy lives and survive through these hard times. 

What is your advice to Kenyans on how to deal with the new normal?

There is no doubt that the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 will affect us in many ways. As we learn to live through the tough times, let us be more open about our challenges and reach out for help.