By Yeukai P Shiripinda
The topic of mental health in general remains marginalised from high level discussions today as it was fifty years ago across the African continent. The reasons for this range anywhere between deep-seated ignorance stemming from associated cultural superstitions to misinformation about the nature and extent of related issues. Individuals suffering from mental health related illnesses are often marginalized and ignored by the society of today and yet they are part of the most vulnerable groups within it. This article however, will focus on the relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health with particular focus being on the financial challenges encountered by the general Zimbabwean. Having established this, it is prudent for the author to define mental health for the purposes of this article.
According to World Health Organization the phrasal term mental health refers to a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. In the opinion of the author, this is the most apt description of mental health as it recognises the social and economic aspects of life that have a correlational link to mental health. It is imperative to note that the definition also takes into cognisance the fact that there are stresses that people will suffer in their lives and that stress should be conflated with a mental health illness but rather the inability to cope with it is what should be regarded as one of the many signs of mental illness.
The covid-19 era has created real need for mental health awareness to be adopted on the agenda of covid-19 response and post-covid-19 reformation and restoration across Africa. This fact is rubberstamped by the results of a web study that were released by the WORLD Health Organization on the 8th of October 2020 in which they identified mental health as an integral component of the COVID-19 response.
It goes without mention that the COVID-19 pandemic changed lives in ways that were unimaginable and presented numerous challenges that were both social and economic .The prevalence of these challenges necessitated re-routing of lives in a bid to adapt to the new status quo. For some, the transition from thepre-COVID-19 era to the current era, though riddled with challenges, was made possible through availability of various resources that were either economic, personal or environmental but for others it was quite the opposite.
Failures of the covi-19 response have ranged from economic shock to social upheaval across the African continent. Looking at Zimbabwe in particular, business failures have characterized the covid-19 era , particularly in the informal sector and the small to medium scale enterprises sector .This can be attributed to a plethora of factors ranging from low cash buffers to limited credit .This has resulted in a number of companies resorting to retrenching employees as they are unable to institute paycheck protection measures .This has sunk the general populace further into the arms of poverty and the stresses thereof compromising mental health.
Surveys such as that conducted by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute in England have shown that mental health and money problems are often intricately linked. They uncovered the fact that in England alone over 1.5 million people were experiencing both financial difficulties and mental health problems. Eighty-six percent of these respondents indicated that their financial problems worsened their mental health issues. If you have read up to this pint you are probably wondering how these two are linked. The relationship between money and mental health is a two tier relationship. On the one hand, financial difficulty will influence mental health whilst on the other hand mental health will affect an individual’s financial wellness.
How does being in financial difficulty affect your mental health?
- Financial difficulties are a common cause of stress, and stigma around debt can mean that people struggle to ask for help and can become isolated. The impact on people’s mental health can be particularly severe if they resort to cutting back on essentials, such as heating and eating, or if creditors are aggressive or insensitive when collecting debts.
- Financial difficulty drastically reduces recovery rates for common mental health conditions. People with depression and problem debt are 4.2 times more likely to still have depression 18 months later, compared to people without financial difficulty.
- People in problem debt are three times as likely to have thought about suicide in the past year. Suicide is a complex phenomenon and there are usually a range of social factors, life events and other circumstances that drive someone to think about it. However, there is a strong link between problem debt and suicide. More than 100,000 people in England attempt suicide while in problem debt each year.
How does having a mental health problem affect your finances?
- People experiencing mental health problems are less likely to be in high-paid employment, and more likely to be in low-paid employment.
- People with mental health problems find it hard to secure jobs compared to those without and this is as a result of the superstitions and stigma that is associated with mental health disorders. Knowledge of the fact that these disorders are manageable with the right treatments remains scarce and in some instances is often debunked.
- People with mental health problems are also overrepresented in high-turnover, low-pay, part-time or temporary work.
- Some people experiencing mental health problems will be reliant on benefits when they are unable to work and studies have shown that adults aged 16-64 in receipt of some kind of out of work benefit – have a common mental disorder, such as depression or generalised anxiety disorder.
The facts above present to us the theme that compromised finances lead to compromised mental health and vice versa. The world health organization has implored governments across Africa to set aside funds in their budgets for mental health and psychosocial support and encouraged governments and stakeholders to embrace psychosocial support in the form of telemedicine and teletherapy where physical interaction is impossible. In higher income countries such as the united states they have instituted paycheck protection schemes to enable all small businesses to access cash-flow assistance through 100 percent federally guaranteed loans which have a maturity of five years at an interest rate of 1%. This is with an added possibility that The loan can be forgiven and essentially turn into a non-taxable grant. Take a second to imagine the positive impact on the mental health of the average Zimbabwean to be realised if such a program was to be made available to the SMEs in Zimbabwe , which according to the Research Council of Zimbabwe , employs over 60% of its population…Penny for your thoughts?
Cited sources for further Reading
Money and Mental Health Fact Sheet https://www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/
The impact of COVID-19 on mental, neurological and substance use services: results of a rapid assessment in the African Region. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. Cataloguing-in-Publication (CIP) data. CIP data are available at http://apps.who.int/iris
WHO Africa Weekly Bulletin on Outbreaks and Other Emergencies: Week 39/20