The Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria (APN), on Tuesday, said fake news on COVID-19 pandemic could cause significant emotional distress to Nigerians and increase the rate of mental health problems in the country.
Dr. Taiwo Sheikh, National President, APN, said the pandemic was a stressful period with many Nigerians nursing the fear of being infected, losing loved ones or dying.
“The Association notes the impact of the novel Corona Virus Infection (COVID-19) as it presents new and unique challenges.
“The COVID-19 pandemic as a global crisis has also affected Nigerians in various ways ranging from lifestyle changes, enforced shutdowns, economic losses, family dislocations, and separations.
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“Unfortunately, the situation is compounded by fake news, alarming reports and stories as well as videos, and pervasive media coverage that is causing significant emotional distress to many people.
“All of the above results in a situation where individuals who are vulnerable may develop mental health problems; while those with existing mental health challenges may experience the worsening of their symptoms.
“Thus, people may suffer in many ways without actually contracting the COVID-19 virus,” Sheikh said in a statement.
He stated that there was a need to anticipate and expect various traumatic and stress reactions as people responded differently to the COVID-19 situation.
He highlighted some of the adverse psychological and behavioural responses as sleep disturbances, reduced feelings of safety, scapegoating, increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other psychoactive substances.
He said other behavioural responses were physical complaints, such as lack of energy and general aches and pains, and increased use of medical resources.
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“There are anxieties and feelings of helplessness over the loss of control around our personal lives, with additional uncertainties over how long this situation will last and when it will be over.
“All these impact those without and with existing mental health issues,” he said.
The consultant psychiatrist said there was the need to step up activities to mitigate deleterious emotional and physical health, economic and financial consequences and importantly prevent further spread of the virus in the country.
He said psychiatrists and other mental health professionals had roles to play in various teams being set up at the national and states levels to provide emotional and psychosocial supports to all.
“We need to provide support to affected individuals, their family members, healthcare providers, particularly those at the frontlines who may be more at risk during and after the period of quarantine, self isolation or lockdown.
“We wish to emphasise at this point that comprehensive tackling of the illnesses, complications and consequences of COVID-19 requires mental health multidisciplinary approach.
“We need to develop strategies of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria while maintaining linkage to international partners and colleagues, “he said.
Sheikh urged Nigerians to manage their media and information intake by getting factual information from NCDC and Ministry of Health approved sites to help them take reasonable precautions.
“It may help to only check the news at set times or limit yourself to a couple of checks a day. 24-hour news and constant social media updates can make you more worried,” said Sheikh.
He also urged Nigerians to be responsible by observing preventive instructions, to also remain calm and control their anxiety to avoid prolonged stress that could have negative effect on their immunity.