The Ghana Psychological Association (GPA) is closely monitoring events in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the increasing number of cases in the country. Psychologically these developments have the potential to cause fear, paranoia, depression, poor sleep quality, stress, irritability and emotional exhaustion.
Besides, relatives of frontline workers such as doctors, nurses and other health workers are likely to live in perpetual fear and anxiety as their loved ones are out there combating COVID-19. We, therefore, urge everyone to remain calm and alert to the coronavirus and base our responses on facts and not on fear.
Certainly, the exponential growth of new coronavirus infection cases will heighten tension and increase uncertainty about a reliable solution. This, if not minimized, could undermine the strict adherence to the preventive measures outlined by government and healthcare authorities. Stress weakens the immune system and reduces its ability to fight the coronavirus. Studies have shown that when people are stressed and anxious their attention to detail and accuracy are impaired and could fall victims to predatory and unscientific information. To this end, the Ghana Psychological Association suggests the following to minimize the bourgeoning negative psychological experiences as a result of the rising curve of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
First, there is a need to add more effort to our public education activities to reinforce strict adherence to the practice of social distancing and hand washing. The preventive measures in place require significant behavioural and attitudinal adjustments ( such as minimising the eating of local dishes with hands) which could be facilitated with intensive publicity. This education must get people to understand that the measures in place are helping to keep themselves and others including vulnerable people (e.g. those who are old or with preexisting serious medical conditions) safe. The more we adhere to the scientifically proven strategies to prevent the spread, the faster we can rise from the outbreak. Thus, the provision of adequate and quality information by experts and health professionals will help a great deal to minimize any negative psychological experience.
Second, we strongly identify the need to create a communal environment that is devoid of promoting the stigma associated with other diseases such as HIV/AIDS being transferred to victims of COVID-19. In this regard, we recommend that the government must implement measures to discourage comments, actions and information which may be insensitive to the wellbeing of infected persons, their families and even recovered victims. Also, the media should be circumspect in its reportage and consciously avoid comments that inadvertently contribute to stigmatization and undermine our efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Besides, we must understand that social distancing does not mean social apathy. Therefore, we admonish the general public not to withdraw their social support, love and affection to those infected and affected in these challenging times, knowing that no one stands immune from COVID-19.
Third, we urge the general public to maintain a positive outlook and use the “gift of time” they have now on positive and upbuilding activities. Given the partial lack of economic activities and the closure of schools by the government, school children and some parents have time to engage at home in ways that have been lacking because of daily hustles and bustles. Instead of spending time on fear-arousing news or information about COVID-19, we advise that people should spend more time reading, meditating and more importantly exercising their bodies to keep them strong and healthy. In times like this, the best thing to do is to trust experts’ directives and maintain a positive outlook accepting that though these times are perilous, they are transient. This too shall pass.
Finally, the government must be seen to be providing adequate logistical support to hospitals and the various healthcare centres to demonstrate enough readiness to fight the coronavirus. Fear and panic could significantly reduce when people perceive that enough PPEs, test kits and health professionals have been deployed to provide healthcare at the various community clinics and health care centres across the country. This will engender trust in the healthcare system which is essential in minimizing the growing levels of stress and anxiety among people.
Thus far, we commend the Government, the Health and Information Ministries for their periodic updates and information on COVID-19. Nevertheless, we are calling on them to unrelentingly intensify public education exercise particularly in the remote areas of the country using all appropriate means of communication.
There is the need to provide relevant factual information on COVID-19 in deprived communities to enable them to decipher factual and reliable information from the many rumours and unreliable updates. In addition, the President and the responsible ministries must be relentless in their efforts to continuously assure Ghanaians, that adequate preparations have been made to protect them.
We urge all to follow the safety guidelines outlined by the government and health authorities without ceasing, disciplining themselves to maintain the recommended physical distance at home and when using public transports. Let us help the situation by filtering any information we receive on social media about COVID-19.
Indeed the sense of fear combined with the willingness to help might cause us to overshare information about the pandemic. As we restrain ourselves from sharing unofficial and unscientific information on social media, we minimize the sharing of hoaxes or misinformation that could exacerbate fear and panic.
The GPA wishes to encourage families of infected persons, frontline workers and the general public who are experiencing feelings of fear and anxiety about COVID-19 to seek psychological help via the following numbers +233200009989/+2330200009999. For direction to a qualified Psychologist to handle peculiar cases, please call the Ghana Psychological Association on +2330548188121.
Stay safe, remain calm and be positive.
On behalf of the National Executive Committee
Dr Richmond Acquah-Coleman
National Public Relations Officer +233244023880