THIS week, May 18-24, is World Mental Health Awareness Week. The mental health awareness week was established in 2001 and the theme for that first campaign was friendship and mental health.

The World Mental Health Awareness Week is meant to raise awareness about mental health issues, remove stigma and encourage us to reflect on our own and others’ mental health.

This year’s theme is Kindness. It is without doubt that this year’s theme is appropriate considering the COVID-19 crisis that the world is battling with.

COVID-19 disturbances have had a direct impact on most people’s mental health in one way or the other and the best way to treat anyone you meet is just to be kind because virtually everyone is under some sort of mental strain.

Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. Kindness not only feels good but it greatly does us good.

Performing acts of kindness can increase satisfaction with life, positive mood and peer acceptance.

You can show kindness by listening to someone, helping, and smiling, sharing silence with someone and sending a text to a loved one.

Kindness can also be expressed by such acts as letting someone into your lane while driving, noticing someone who seems lonely and inviting them along with you.

These are some of the acts that we need to show people around us during this stressful period.

The national lockdown that was put in place by the government to contain the spread of the virus has undoubtedly strained most households at a socio-economic level.

Since most people in this country survive through the informal sector, the lockdown means that there are limited resources in homes.

These resources are mainly basic commodities such as food and sources of energy.
The lockdown and its extended versions has also affected people in formal employment as some have had pay cuts and some may have their contracts terminated.

All these developments have the real possibility of leading people into depression.

Most people are not sure about where they will get their next income or even meal.

People may end up overthinking in a pessimistic way. This then warrants us to strengthen our kindness muscle.

Be kind to the person close to you as most people are under strain.

As people continue to be worried about the spread of the virus, about the possibility of being infected and about the uncertainty regarding when the disease will subside, anxiety levels may rise to unhealthy levels.

People are currently worried about when the lockdown will end.

This anxiety may manifest in irrational fears and physical symptoms such as headaches or pains in the neck or back.

As such, during this period of COVID-19 disturbances we may witness significantly high numbers of physical ailments with origins in the psyche.

Whilst we may not all be trained to assist people when they get into such problems, the best thing that we can do this mental health awareness week and beyond is to be kind.

There are reports of stigma being on the rise against people who have been infected or are assumed to be infected.

People from COVID-19 high-risk zones or countries also face stigma when they interact with people from low-risk areas.

The mental health awareness week calls upon us to do away with that stigmatization and be kind to everyone.

The country has witnessed a rise in cases of gender-based violence (GBV).

This rise in GBV cases is explained in part by the COVID-19 lockdown.

The restriction of people to their homes for long periods of time coupled with economic strain in most homes has partly led to an increase in tension and as such violence in some homes.

During this mental health awareness week and beyond, be kind to everyone you meet for they may be a victim of GBV.

The uncertainty that school and college students face due to the temporary closure of schools has the real possibility of leading to anxiety.

At the moment, there is no clear direction with regards to how learning will proceed and how examinations will be conducted.

Some schools and universities have already started implementing online learning.

While that is a good development, online learning is a potential source of stress to learners coming from poor backgrounds where gadgets that connect to the internet are unavailable and data bundles are not affordable.

In some areas internet connection is either unavailable or very weak.

This, therefore, means the majority, if not all students in this country, are under stress.

The need to be kind to all our learners this mental health awareness week and beyond is therefore without doubt.

The national lockdown and restrictions on movements and gatherings put in place to contain the spread of the virus have a strong bearing on people’s mental health.

In African culture, social gatherings provide a source of psychosocial support. People get an opportunity to ventilate whenever they meet; they get an opportunity to share their problems.

The church is also another source of psychosocial support and with churches temporarily closed; most people are deprived of that psychosocial support.

Funeral gatherings remain very much restricted, meaning that some people do not get time to mourn their loved ones and gain closure.

All these restrictions entail that people are denied an opportunity to get psychological healing.

This, therefore, means most people are laden with a lot of psychological tension. It is, therefore, necessary to be kind to everyone this mental health awareness week and beyond.

As we celebrate mental health awareness week, let us bear in mind that people around us are potentially under mental strain.

They may not talk about it and we may not be equipped to assist them even if they talk, but we can do well by being kind to them.

 Herbert Zirima is a registered psychologist and a senior lecturer in the department of psychology at Great Zimbabwe University. He writes here in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at hzirima@gzu.ac.zw

Do you have a coronavirus story? You can email us on: news@alphamedia.co.zw