In Summary
  • In Kenya, companies have shut down and sent their employees home, imposed pay cuts, or laid off staff.
  • It’s the first time most Kenyans are working from home, which comes with its own challenges, especially if one has young children.
  • John Kinyanjui*, 45, finds working from home “very stressful”.

In just a matter of weeks, life as we knew it has been turned upside down, thanks to Covid-19, which has held the world hostage and devastated economies.

To understand just how helpless people feel in the face of this deadly virus, the finance minister of Germany’s Hesse state, Thomas Schaefer, recently committed suicide after becoming “deeply worried over how to cope with the economic fallout from Covid-19”.

In Kenya, companies have shut down and sent their employees home, imposed pay cuts, or laid off staff. As for small-scale traders, there is no business to talk of, what with markets all over the country closed in an effort to tame the virus.

CLOSED RESTAURANTS

Then there is the recently imposed curfew, which effectively ended any socialising that was left after bars were closed and restaurants ordered to restrict their services to takeaways.

It’s the first time most Kenyans are working from home, which comes with its own challenges, especially if one has young children.

Simply put, Kenyans are in uncharted waters, which is not only stressful, but can also cause depression.

John Kinyanjui*, 45, finds working from home “very stressful”.

“I am in an unhappy marriage, it has been for some time,” he says, adding that work helped him “cope”, since he would leave the house well before 6am and return after 10pm, when his wife and three children were asleep.

MARITAL CONFLICT

During this period, couples experiencing long-running marital conflict will either destroy each other or be forced to face and deal with their issues, says Prof Catherine Gachutha, a counselling psychologist with 22 years’ experience.

“I bet that behavioural addictions have gone up as a way of coping with this crisis. Many, for instance, are spending more time than they normally do with their gadgets, completely ignoring their spouses, and their children,” she says, adding, “When people at war with each other are enclosed in a small space, the fear is that there will be more cases of violence, even homicide.”

In addition, some couples have to deal with loss of income.

“If you hadn’t cultivated a way of dealing with the issues that cropped up in your marriage, you will not be able to handle the many challenges coming up during this unfamiliar time,” Prof Gachutha, who is also the director of the Kenya Institute of Business Counselling Studies.

While it might sound like a hopeless situation, Prof Gachutha believes there is a way out, but only for couples willing to acknowledge and face their shortcomings.

HABITUAL COMPLAINER

“If you don’t want to separate, you need to start collaborating. Identify and place your problems and deficiencies on the table, stop trying to fix each other and commit not to blame each other.

If you are a habitual complainer, start appreciating the little your spouse does for you, and if you are the one who drinks all the family income, it is time to let go of this destructive behaviour,” she advises. Other steps include setting rules that will help you start talking to each other, rather than shouting at each other.

Many people are anxious, which could lead to depression if it goes unchecked. So, how can you tell that you are hurtling towards depression and seek help before you get there?

Hiram Chomba, a psychotherapist with Befrienders Kenya, part of Befrienders Worldwide, a global network of 349 emotional support centres in 32 countries, says that it starts with losing interest in the daily activities you once enjoyed, such as watching movies, reading or exercising.

“Other signs are sleeping too much or too little, or eating too much or too little. There is also a problem if you no longer want to be around people and neglect your hygiene,” says Mr Chomba.

A major sign of depression is heightened sadness, though for this to be classified as depression, the symptoms should last at least two weeks. “You should also sit up and take notice if small things have started to trigger fits of anger in you because you could be on the verge of depression,” says Mr Chomba, who specialises in suicidology.

Where to get help: Befrienders Kenya: 0722 178177, befrienderskenya@gmail.com; EA Institute of Professional Counselling: 0721 201564; Greatness Assured Consultancy: 0700 060859.