A new report has shown the psychological effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians.
Findings of a national survey carried out by the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI), a non-governmental organisation, indicate that the pandemic threatened the livelihood of, at least, 76 per cent of Nigerians.
The pandemic further pushed lots of people into anxiety and depression, findings from the survey show.
Speaking during a virtual briefing on Monday, the founder of MANI, Victor Ugo, said its organisation witnessed a 70 per cent increase in the number of clients within the first month of the COVID-19 lockdown which was declared by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr Ugo said this prompted the organisation to initiate the national survey as a way to ascertain a fact-based impact of the pandemic on Nigerians.
“In the first month of the COVID-19 lockdown, we had a 70 per cent increase in the number of people reaching out to us and after some time, it increased to 150 per cent.
“For us to understand how to approach this using evidence-based data, we had to do a national survey,” Mr Ugo said.
The survey, which is titled; “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health in Nigeria,” was initiated by MANI in partnership with the Africa Polling Institute (API).
MANI is a youth-led non-governmental organisation focused on raising awareness on mental health and illnesses as well as working to connect service users to mental health professionals.
Online-based, MANI has successfully adopted and developed various social media techniques and strategies to draw public attention to mental health.
The organisation said the survey aimed to understand the current state of mental health across Nigeria, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigerians.
It was conducted as a cross-sectional survey with adults, 18 years and above through telephonic interviews, which were administered in five different languages of English, Pidgin, Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba, to improve inclusivity.
There were 2,083 responses to the survey and 50.8 per cent of the participants are male.
The participants were grouped in three age groups: 18-35 years (35.9 per cent), 36-60 years (58.4 per cent) and 60+ years (5.7 per cent).
About 76 per cent of the participants agreed with the statement that “the COVID-19 outbreak is threatening their livelihood/income.”
About 78.9 per cent of them reported using one coping strategy to improve their wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 18.5 per cent of the participants reported using two or more coping strategies.
The report also shows that a quarter of the participants either had depression or anxiety during the period of the lockdown.
The people in the South-south zone were at least 4.69 times more likely to be dealing with anxiety or depression compared to those in the North-central zone.
About 15.9 per cent of the participants had suspected depression while 18.0 per cent had suspected anxiety.
Mr Ugo further said: “The findings from the study were in line with what we could see in the global data in terms of how the lockdown affected people’s lives and cost more economic difficulties.
“These are the social determinants that increase the risk factors of people developing mental health conditions.
“Even though the pandemic didn’t have any direct relationship to causing mental health problems, it had an indirect relationship in that it increased all of the risk factors of people developing mental health problems.”
He noted that the report provides an analysis of the survey and key recommendations that can be used by local groups, leaders, and policymakers to ensure that the response meets the mental health needs of all Nigerians.
Mr Ugo said it is necessary for the government to ensure widespread availability of mental health care using a task sharing health care approach.
He said this involves the training of community and village health workers who do not necessarily have any particular qualification for provision of psychiatric services.
He said: “You train them to be able to provide some level of mental health care. So at the Primary Health Care level, you have people who are not necessarily doctors but can support people that present very early at the centre.
“If you have more serious cases, people at the PHC level are taught how to refer them to the secondary health care level where they find doctors who are general practitioners. These people are trained to give proper prescriptions to people that have less severe mental problems.”
He explained that this will reduce the workload of the few psychiatrists available in the country. “This means that at every point in time, you are reducing the caseload psychiatrists have to face because only severe mental cases are referred to the tertiary health care centres.”
He added that the government also needs to identify and address the social determinants that predispose people to mental health problems.