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The Mental Health Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Implications for Sub-Saharan Africa

Authors Semo B, Frissa SM

Received 24 May 2020

Accepted for publication 24 July 2020

Published 3 September 2020 Volume 2020:13 Pages 713—720


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 6

Editor who approved publication: Professor Mei-chun Cheung

Bazghina-werq Semo, 1, 2,* Souci Mogga Frissa 3,*

1Independent Global Health Consultant, Washington DC, DC, USA; 2Department of Global Health, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA; 3Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, Centre for Global Mental Health, King’s College, London, UK

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence: Bazghina-werq Semo Email [email protected]

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to mental health problems due to disease experience, physical distancing, stigma and discrimination, and job losses in many of the settings hardest hit by the pandemic. Health care workers, patients with COVID-19 and other illnesses, children, women, youth, and the elderly are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Virtual mental health services have been established in many settings and social media is being used to impart mental health education and communication resources. This rapid review highlights mental health services across countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. More needs to be done to take these services to scale and ensure equity and efficiency. The impact of COVID-19 on mental health in sub-Saharan Africa could be immense, given the weak health care systems. Similar to the Ebola epidemic of 2014– 2016, COVID-19 is expected to cause anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders. Uptake of mental health care services is generally low, and communities rely on social resources. Hence, efforts to control the disease transmission should be contextualized. Low digital literacy, low smartphone penetration and limited internet connection make online mental health services a limited option for service delivery. Safeguarding social and cultural resilience factors and coping mechanisms is critical in the sub-Saharan African context. Mass media is a feasible way of providing social resources. Community health workers can be trained quickly to provide mental health education, screening and counselling services. Toll-free mental health helplines can be used to provide services to health care workers and those needing customized care. Mental health and psychosocial support services need to be integrated into the pandemic response and coordinated nationally. It is critical for these services to continue during and after the epidemic.

Keywords: COVID-19, mental health, sub-Saharan Africa

Creative Commons License This work is published by Dove Medical Press Limited, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. The full terms of the License are available at The license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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