A psychiatrist and member of the Lagos State Government Psychosocial Support Group for COVID-19 patients, Dr. Oluseun Ogunnubi, says when officials call people whose tests are positive for the contagion, they resort to cursing health workers, while also rejecting the outcomes in the name of God.
Ogunnubi, alongside another expert, Dr. Olamijulo Fatiregun, said the reactions were due to the stigmatisation usually encountered by people who test positive for the global pandemic, warning against stigmatising COVID-19 survivors, and saying discrimination against them could push them to suicide or result in psychosis.
Psychosis is a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.
The experts, Consultant Psychiatrist at Grace Cottage Clinic, Ilupeju, Dr. Oluseun Ogunnubi; and Consultant Psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Olamijulo Fatiregun, lamented that many people who test positive for COVID-19 stay away from isolation centres for fear of stigmatisation.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in an interview, Ogunnubi said the stigmatising of persons diagnosed with or treated for COVID-19 is taking mental toll on patients.
Ogunnubi, who is also a lecturer at the University of Lagos, said COVID-19 patients who are stigmatised may become suicidal, suffer from psychosis and other psychosocial issues, including agitation, anxiety and sleep impairment, as well as poor eating habit.
Recall that the Lagos State government had said that 2,683 active cases of COVID-19 in the communities were yet to turn up for admission in care centres, either due to ignorance or fear of stigmatisation or preference for home care.
“Those who are not able to overcome stigmatisation will become agitated, withdrawn, they will have poor self-esteem, and some may become suicidal.
“It can lead to anxiety, panic attack and they may feel that people are talking about them and before you know it, they begin to have psychotic experience. It can lead to poor sleeping habit and poor eating habit,” Ogunnubi noted.
Comparing COVID-19 infection with mental illness, the psychiatrist said the contagion was plagued with a lot of stigmatisation, just like mental illness.
“The stigmatisation starts from the disease itself. In human behaviour, people stigmatise any condition they think has no cure or any condition whose origin they don’t know, or if they think it’s highly infectious or any condition they don’t really know much about. And COVID-19 falls into that category.
“So, people stigmatise those who are infected and even those who have COVID-19 stigmatise themselves.”
Ogunnubi, who is also a member of the Lagos State Government Psychosocial Support Group for COVID-19 patients, said some COVID-19 patients refuse to come to the isolation centre for fear of stigmatisation.
“There are some who, when called to inform them that their test is positive, they will curse you and reject the result in the name of God because they don’t want to be associated with it. But when people have malaria, they don’t hesitate to go to the hospital.
“Stigmatisation is affecting people from coming to the isolation centres and when they get to the isolation centres and you want to counsel them, they don’t want to listen to you.
“Even at the point of evacuation to the isolation centre, you will see people taking video shots, trying to identify patients and this can affect them.
The psychiatrist, however, urged persons who are stigmatised to look at those stigmatising them from the position of ignorance.
“When people try to stigmatise them, they should not feel bad, they should rather use it as an opportunity to educate the people,” Ogunnubi said.
Also, a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Olamijulo Fatiregun, called for continuous public education on the infectious disease.
“We must engage in continuous education, just like we did during the HIV pandemic. We need to educate the populace that COVID-19 is here with us and once the patients test negative to it, they can return to work.
“Health workers should also take their time to educate the society, employers, and patients about COVID-19; we will be able to stop society phobia about the virus if we are able to educate everyone adequately.
“Patients should be educated on how to cope with after their discharge and to rise above self-stigmatisation,” Fatiregun said.
He said stigmatisation has a long-term effect on COVID-19 patients and “if care is not taken, the person will not be able to get his self-esteem back again. It can actually cause depression and it can lead to suicide,” he said.
Source: PUNCH Healthwise