How mental health affected Batswana during COVID-19

Social and financial circumstances, biological factors, and lifestyle choices can all shape a person’s mental health. Ramaphane (WAR director)
Social and financial circumstances, biological factors, and lifestyle choices can all shape a person’s mental health. Ramaphane (WAR director)

Everyone has some risk of developing a mental health disorder no matter their age, sex, income, or ethnicity. Social and financial circumstances, biological factors, and lifestyle choices can all shape a person’s mental health. A large proportion of people with mental health disorders have more than one mental health problem. COVID-19 and other factors continue to harm mental health. Mmegi Correspondent LEBOGANG MOSIKARE writes

FRANCISTOWN: Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Additionally, experts say good mental health depends on a delicate balance of factors and that several elements of life and the world at large can work together to contribute to disorders. Having limited financial means or belonging to a marginalised group such as the Lesbians, Gays & Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) or persecuted ethnic group, like the Basarwa community, can increase the risk of mental health disorders, the researchers add.

Academics classify factors that may lead to mental health disorders into two groups: modifiable and non-modifiable factors.


Modifiable factors for mental health disorders include: socio-economic conditions such as whether work is available in the local area, occupation, a person’s level of social involvement, education and housing quality. Non-modifiable factors include: gender, age and ethnicity.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recently released a report entitled, ‘The State of the World’s Children 2021: My mind: Promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health’.

The state of the World’s Children 2021 examines child, adolescent and caregiver mental health. It focuses on the risks and protective factors for mental health and well-being at critical moments in the life course.

It aims to increase understanding of the specific needs of children, adolescents and caregivers, and to explore issues around mental health through the perspective of young people themselves.

Ultimately, the goal of the report is to highlight a comprehensive approach to promote good mental health for every child, protect vulnerable children and care for children facing the greatest challenges.

The recent UNICEF report shows that Botswana just like the rest of the world was not spared of the negative effects of COVID-19 and continues to face crises that were exacerbated by the virus.

Children in Botswana like the rest of the world, the report notes, were locked out of classrooms, sequestered in their homes and robbed of the everyday joy of playing with friends - all consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Millions more families have been pushed into poverty, unable to make ends meet. Child labour, abuse and gender-based violence (GBV) are on the rise. Many children are filled with sadness, hurt or anxiety. Some are wondering where this world is headed and what their place is in it. Indeed, these are very challenging times for children and young people, and this is the state of their world in 2021,” says UNICEF.

The state of the world’s children 2021 concludes by calling for commitment, communication and action to promote good mental health for every child, protect vulnerable children and care for children facing the greatest challenges.

It adds: “But even without a pandemic, psychosocial distress and poor mental health afflict far too many children - including millions who, each year, are forced from their homes, scarred by conflict and serious adversity, and deprived of access to schooling, protection and support. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic represents merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to poor mental health outcomes.”

UNICEF stresses that mental health issues should not be ignored. “... And when we ignore mental health issues in our societies, we close off conversation, reinforce stigma and prevent children and caregivers from seeking the help they need.” In Botswana, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Women Against Rape (WAR) and Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), played and continue to play a crucial role in making sure that the mental health of parents and caregivers is supported in order to enable the parents and caregivers to nurture and care for their children to the best of their ability.

Responding to a questionnaire from Mmegi, WAR said since March, 2020 to date, it gave shelter to 14 boys, 34 girls and 25 women since the advent of COVID-19 in Botswana in order to safeguard their mental health.

WAR says that most of the victims fled their homes because of gender-based violence (GBV) that completely got out of control in Botswana. Just like UNICEF has observed, WAR says that of the statistics provided above, 27 of them involved school going children.

Asked about the kind of support it gave to their clients, WAR said: “We provided the victims with shelter (safe house), food, toiletry, private clothing, transport, counselling, mentorship, supervision and monitoring, academic work, advocacy to other stakeholders, economic empowerment and life skills training.”

Currently, WAR says that some of the victims are still at their shelter in Maun while some have been discharged and relocated to other alternative places of abode. “We are currently accommodating nine children. Before the State of Emergency (SoE) was lifted, men also sought assistance from us,” WAR explained. Giving a breakdown of the forms of abuse the victims were running away from their homes, WAR explained that 32 of their clients were dependents of victims who sought shelter at their facility.

Editor's Comment
Everyone should be on high alert

Close to half a million people in the country have been fully vaccinated while over 800,000 have received their first doses. Botswana has tackled tough hurdles, but the race is far from over.Batswana are gearing up for the holidays and there will be a lot of movement across the country and outside the country. Social gatherings are back in full force and now more than ever, people should observe COVID-19 protocols.Our neighbouring country South...

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