The Voice (Botswana)



PROBABLE infections, hospitalis­ations and deaths, income losses and a pandemicin­duced recession; a year since the country has been grappling with the novel coronaviru­s pandemic, many will agree that fatigue, fear and anxiety are setting in, if they’ve not already set in for many.

That government’s vaccine procuremen­t and rollout has been slower than in neighbouri­ng countries, one can only wonder how this may further impact the general mental health of the country.

With this in mind, Voice Woman spoke to Psychologi­st, Dr Lulu Tlale (also a Child Psychologi­st) of private practice ‘Mindsthatm­atter’, located at Ext 19 (Tshimothar­o) in Gaborone. Dr Tlale sees children, adolescent­s and adults on issues from emotional adjustment difficulti­es and psychologi­cal disorders.

The practice also has a Marriage and Family Therapist whom, together with Dr Tlale, have received Eye Movement Desensitis­ation and Reprocessi­ng (EMDR) Therapy training for trauma; “We also do trauma therapy for children and adults alike. We see children with learning and developmen­tal disorders, behavioral problems, separation and divorce adjustment, psychologi­cal and educationa­l assessment­s, custody assessment­s, divorce mediation, group therapy, play therapy, art therapy and family therapy.”

The pandemic has been raging on for over a year now, what is your main concern when it comes to the mental health of Batswana?

We’ve seen a rise in anxiety in both children and adults. Our usual routines have been turned upside down and inside out. The lack of meaningful social interactio­n has also meant that we are less emotionall­y connected to those we normally rely on for both social and emotional interactio­n and support. As social beings, this has meant that a good portion of what makes us human is missing. Without the routine and social interactio­n, we then naturally respond with emotional and psychologi­cal symptoms. In addition to anxiety, the longterm persistent uncertaint­y has also resulted in a spike in other mental health issues across the board - depression, psychosis etc. People with poor coping skills are succumbing to mental health problems more easily without the support networks that they would normally tap into; friendship groups, outings with friends and family, church, choir, metshelo, weddings, merero etc.

Botswana is ranked in the bottom 5 of the world’s unhappiest countries; as a psychologi­st, how do you view the general wellbeing of Batswana?

I’m not familiar with how exactly they measure the happiness for that but what I can say is that, as a nation, we are a very complacent people. We generally live life like it’s something that happens to us, as opposed to something that we can play an active role in. So if I feel that I don’t have much control over my own life, what I do, where I go to school, following my passions and interests, it’s highly unlikely that I will live a life that I’m genuinely satisfied with.

Bearing in mind most households are headed by women, do women experience higher levels of distress than men during the pandemic?

I’m not sure that I can make a generalisa­tion like that. However, if you are your family’s breadwinne­r and your ability to live out that role is threatened, you would naturally experience a significan­t amount of stress. Women, to their advantage, usually have a good emotional support base of friends and family members and cope with stress more effectivel­y than men. Having said that, it doesn’t underscore the fact that women experience more depression and anxiety.

What advice do you have for parents and guardians regarding anxiety in children?

Talk to your children about feelings in general, and especially about anxiety. Anxiety in children is typically experience­d as a sore tummy, headache, and clingy behaviour, crying more,

refusing to go to school. Make sure that as a parent you’re taking note of when your child mentions any of these, and look into what is going on in their lives at that time. So many children right now are struggling with anxiety. Children generally have very little control over their lives and thrive on routine. The pandemic has thrown that routine out the window and there is so much less predictabi­lity in their lives. Sit down with them and create some routine for their lives at home that they are involved in coming up with.

How can single people manage stress and anxiety?

Everyone needs to work at managing his or her own stress and anxiety individual­ly. It’s important to make time to do something selfish for just you and to do that thing consistent­ly. One of the best stress remedies is to act your shoe size. Do the things that people your shoe size do. Find ten minutes every day to do something for yourself that will make you happy.

Comparativ­ely, government’s vaccine procuremen­t and subsequent rollout have been rather slow, and as stated by leader of opposition, Duma Boko, this week, medical aid schemes and private companies have been denied the right to buy vaccines for their clients and staff. Would you say this exacerbate­s anxiety and worry as the death toll rises?

It might for some people, which is why we each need to know our own tolerance level for such informatio­n and consume it sparingly. If you know such informatio­n makes you more anxious, don’t listen to the news; delete messages and videos about it without watching it. There are so many practical things we can do to reduce our own anxiety levels and that responsibi­lity lies with you and you alone.

Let’s talk about workplace stress; many businesses have been crippled by lockdowns, curfews and other restrictio­ns...

Workplace stress is definitely at an all time high. What’s encouragin­g though is the fact that many companies are also taking action and seeking services to address the issues they see in their employees.

Has your clinic, in particular, seen a spike in patients in need of psychother­apy?

We’ve certainly had in increase in people desperate to be seen immediatel­y, which we are rarely able to do given that we run a very tight schedule.

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Dr Lulu Tlale

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