The confinement measures aimed at curbing the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, not only crippled the sources of livelihoods of most vendors but it took a massive emotional toll on the mental health of many. While the relaxation of the restrictions facilitated for ease of business and operations, and enabled somewhat relaxed movements for people, a crucial part was neglected, that of mental health. In this feature, we look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of vendors post lockdown.
Informal trade has always had many challenges, in particular the inconsistency of sales on a daily basis. The pandemic further exacerbated the struggle, causing much emotional strain on women who make up the bulk of vendors and traders in Bulawayo. Trying to make ends meet sunk an unspoken majority into depression and anxiety attacks. The Bulawayo United Nations Volunteers (UNVs) conducted a mini survey in the Bulawayo markets to assess this impact. Eleven out of 20 of the vendors they spoke to, hinted at being unable to cope psychologically as they were unaware of how they would afford their next meal or pay school fees for their children. The lockdown meant that more and more children were spending time at home, which subsequently meant more meals being consumed per day.
“While the world fought COVID-19 another pandemic crept up on us. I was so depressed, that most of my time was spent trying to figure out where my next meal would come from,” said Miss Lungile Mdlongwa a vendor operating in the Central Business District (CBD). With the rising COVID-19 cases in the Bulawayo, the vendors fear yet another lockdown. “I am not sure how we would cope if another lockdown is imposed. We are currently trying to adjust to the new normal and possibly make profits amidst the festive season and another lockdown will just ruin business,” she added.
The survey also revealed that six out of 12 of the women engaged reported an increase in domestic disputes with their partners. A majority of these were related to finances within the home. With nowhere to turn, to seek assistance during the lockdown, women and men sunk into depression. In its efforts to create awareness on the triggers of mental health the UNVs have created a podcast that speaks to mental health issues such as depression and Gender Based Violence (GBV). As the globe commemorates 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence running under the theme “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!,” an opportunity to amplify mental health awareness post COVID-19 has been presented. Mthokozisi Mabhena, a UN Volunteer who facilitates discussions on the podcast emphasized the need to include mental health awareness which has been a neglected area in the country. “Mental health matters are not alien and should not be treated as such. Suicide cases are there, people are failing to cope. It is time we address this now so that the next generation does not suffer the consequences.”