EHS-COVID (387) COVID-19 and mental health services (5) Impact of COVID-19 on mental health (2)

8 June, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

The covid-19 pandemic when it started in March 2020 in Cameroon took many by surprise. No one really understood what was happening. This surprise was in Itself potentially traumatic. The acme of panic, fear of the unknown, fear of dying and confusion started when the lockdown measures by the Prime minister on the 18th of March was stated.

I think it is this lockdown which had and still has important impact on the general population. It had and has changed routine habits and behavior important for mental health and wellbeing. Moreover in the second phase of the pandemic when confinement and quarantine had to be done, many had and still experience psychological distress.

The fear was so intense in the population that the mental health department of the ministry of public health had to contantly reassure the population. I even was approached by a journalist to talk about the psychological impact of covid-19 and what can be done to reduce it. Fear then was so intense in the population.

It should be noted that hospital settings during the covid-19 pandemic in Cameroon have now got a different social representation and perception than before it. People feared and still do fear going to the hospital to seek for health care services relating to covid 19 management. Perhaps it has extended extended to other services. One of the reason stems from death associated with covid-19 in the hospital and its impact on the mourning, bereavement and burial processes of people. Moreover fear and distrust of the health system has increased during the covid-19.

The inability to see and bury their loved ones who died in the hospital as a result of Covid19 has been for many particularly very traumatic.

I remember I received a lady during a clinical session who was hypertensive and whose hypertensive scores had increased during the grief, mourning and bereavement processes of her sister in law, wife to her junior brother who died by covid-19. Well when i met her she had not even started the work of grief. It is the clinical sessions she received that induced it. Been from a region of Cameroon very faithful to rituals of the dead, the absence of the corpse because the hospital where her sister-in-law died, had to burry it soonest. The absence of the corpse plunged her into generalized anxiety disorder, depression and trauma.

She also recounted been traumatized by how the hospital handled the corpse and the whole situation of having to mourn and grief without the corpse.

It is important to talk of the health professionnal population working in hospitals. In the early onset of the pandemic. Those health professionals who were diagnosed positive for covid-19 were stigmatized. I met one nurse whom while i was having psychotherapies with, disclosed she had had covid-19 and how her hospital stigmatized her. She told me how painfully she experienced the diagnosis of Covid19 in the hospital she was working in. She told me it was traumatic how the hospital she was working in (both the administration and her colleagues) handled her situation.

The covid-19 pandemic has impacted on the behavior, attitudes and habits of population, the health professionals, a specific population have also been affected, and the perception, representation of the health system by the population seriously affected as well. Time and research will tell to which significant extents. However, it is clear that this impact is very perceptible in the social interactions and language at all levels. As one walks in the streets, sees and listens. For example touching behaviour is affected seriously. African-Cameroonians are very fond of touching one another when they interact. Burial rituals have also been affected seriously.

All these are stressors, maladaptive behaviours which have built up since March 2020 and impacting silently on the population's mental health.

Best wishes,

Didier Demassosso

HIFA Country Representative Coordinator Afro Region

HIFA profile: Didier Demassosso is a mental health practitioner, Consultant (WHO , MoPH Cameroon...), Mental health advocate , Youth advocate with 10 years experience in mental health development in Cameroon. He is also a health communicator and educationist. HIFA Country Representative For Cameroon/ HIFA Country Representative of the year 2014 / Regional Coordinator for Africa. He also currently volunteers for the Mental Health Innovation Network Africa as Knowledge Exchange Assistant.

Email: didier.demassosso AT