Namibia: The Psychological Cost of Covid-19

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has both a public health and an economic component. As a public health issue, the virus has made thousands of Namibians sick and killed a few hundreds. It has put the public health system under pressure and has consumed millions of dollars that were originally allocated to other policy priorities.

The extreme social distancing methods used to curb the public health threat caused great economic harm. In the poorer parts of the world, the extent of the health problem is not correlated to the size of the economic problem. This means countries like Namibia pay a hefty price for what some would deem a not-too-serious public health problem.

Much has been written already on the impact of the pandemic on the country's economy and there is no need to repeat it here. But there is another, perhaps more hidden, consequence of the pandemic that much less has been written about.

STRESS AND ANXIETY

Pandemics have serious psychological consequences. These stem from stress and anxiety caused by both the economic and health threats posed by the pandemic.

A study that was conducted during the height of the pandemic last year provides some valuable insights into the psychological pressures on Namibian households.

Figure 1 shows a breakdown of a series of standard stress and anxiety symptoms as reported by 1 200 Namibian households.

Seven in 10 (71%) respondents in the study reported that they are afraid of Covid-19, and six in 10 (61%) reported that they are afraid of losing their life. More than half (53%) feel uncomfortable if they think about it, and half (50%) report getting nervous when reading about the pandemic. One in three (33%) report heart palpitations and the same percentage report clammy hands when thinking about the disease. One in four (25%) report sleeplessness because of the pandemic.

The study shows that the way the pandemic triggers stress and anxiety is quite complex. For example:

Women have higher levels of stress than men. It may be because they had to assume much more care work during the lockdown and while schools were closed. It may also be because in some sectors they were more likely to lose their jobs.

Those with higher incomes report less stress than those with lower levels of income because they have greater financial security and perhaps because they are less likely to be retrenched as they may hold professional positions that were not as much under threat as the jobs held by the poor.

Stress levels are higher among rural inhabitants than in urban areas, perhaps because they have less access to information, or because the quality and access to health care in rural areas are worse than in urban areas.

Education levels also make a difference, as those with higher levels of education show less Covid-19 stress than those with lower levels of education. Perhaps because better education is associated with higher income and greater financial security.

In the end, the survey results show that economics matters, and it matters a lot. Households who reported difficulty in meeting their monthly financial commitments have significantly higher stress levels than those who had no such problems. The same applies to those households who did not have any savings going into the pandemic. The data also shows a positive link between respondents' trust in the information supplied by government and stress perhaps because of knowing that the threat is serious, but not being able to do much about it.

Another factor that seems associated with pandemic-related stress is time. The longer the pandemic existed, the more stress some Namibians experienced.

Pandemic-related stress has received little attention. As a result, we do not understand the full impact of the pandemic on the nation and its people. Maybe it is time we start looking at the possible consequences of prolonged, elevated personal stress levels and how these would hamper and shape some groups and individuals' mental health, healing and recovering from what may well be the most stressful event of our lives.

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