By Sola Ogundipe
In the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, APN, has urged Nigerians to take care of their emotional and mental health.
In a position statement and advice to Nigerians on the COVID-19, President of the APN, Dr. Taiwo Sheikh said no Nigerian should suffer a mental breakdown as a result of the pandemic.
“It is important to ensure that our emotional and mental health is maintained at its best at this difficult and anxious time, while we develop appropriate coping strategies using existing positive social and cultural resources available to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant ‘lockdown’.
“It is also important that we always remember that this is a temporary situation which shall come to pass, it must not leave us with mental health and psychosocial sequelae.
“We encourage everyone to endure and enjoy the “stay at home to help us all stay alive” while those on essential duties and frontline responders continue delivering their services with utmost caution.”
Sheikh said it was strongly recommended that Mental Health Professionals must be actively involved in all COVID-19 teams nationwide to provide comprehensive mental health care and psychosocial support for all.
“All mental health facilities in Nigeria should adopt universal precautions and set in motion infection prevention and control teams that define unequivocally preventive measures (such as providing handwashing points, prepositioning of hand sanitisers and appropriate protective equipment).
“The health institutions are also to ensure the protection of all members of staff from chronic stress by adopting measures such as rotating workers from higher-stress to lower stress roles, implementing flexible work schedules for staff, encouraging peer social support among staff.”
He said the institutions should be involved in institutional public health education and safety precautionary measures for all staff and patients of the facility.
“They should provide adequate orientation and refresher training to all staff on how to provide basic emotional and practical support to persons in need using psychological first aid. Training should also be extended to security personnel, officers, porters, and support services on safe practices at the workplace during a pandemic.
He also said there should be “Scaling down of work schedules for non-clinical staff, ultimately for clinical as well by reducing the influx of new patients. Only dire emergencies should be attended to while the follow-up cases could be given longer appointments.”
Calling for proper orientation and acquisition of the right information on the COVID-19 with regular updates, Sheikh enjoined mental health professionals to ensure observance of universal precautionary measures at all times working with a high index of suspicion at their duty posts.
“Adapt useful stress management and coping strategies at workplaces, observe adequate rest, practice social distance, eat healthy meals, maintain contact with your loved ones using phones and other electronic devices, engaging in physical exercise and ensure good personal and respiratory hygiene.
He called for use of pictorial diagrams, voice recording in local languages and usual signages especially for children, the elderly and those with mental health/psychosocial disabilities.
“Manage the prejudice and stigma that is associated with COVID-19 and mental health/psychosocial disabilities, providing good psychosocial care and support for persons with mental health/psychosocial disabilities to enable them to function optimally.