Dr Mathero Michelle Nkhalamba, lecturer in the Psychology Department

Talking COVID-19 and Mental Health

While the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed a lot of lives in Malawi and beyond, one thing that health workers have come to realize is that it is also taking a toll on mental health. A lot of individuals are facing a new level of mental stress as they try to cope with the pandemic. As a result, there are some professionals who have taken it upon themselves to provide positive advice, so that people may cope better with the mental strain that has come with the pandemic. One of these professionals is Dr Mathero Michelle Nkhalamba, a lecturer in the Psychology Department at Chancellor College. She is no stranger to counselling, having featured several times on Chanco Radio, and also currently working as a volunteer counsellor at Tisungane Clinic, Zomba General Hospital.

Since July 2020, Dr Nkhalamba has been featured as a permanent guest on the “Mental Health Chat Segment” programme on Times Radio where she addresses issues related to mental health in Malawi. Due to the currency of the COVID-19 pandemic, issues tackled on the programme have included depression, relations with those who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19, and managing of children in times of new socialising restrictions. The programme began as a way of initiating discussions on mental health, through simple conversations and a platform where people can listen in. The show is broadcast in Chichewa, ensuring that it has broad listenership.

In one of the programmes, for example, Nkhalamba observes that those with pre-existing conditions are liable to experience a higher level of stress, due to the understanding that they are at greater risk of succumbing to COVID-19. She also observes that medical workers also experience more stress, due to the fact that they have to care for patients, while also protecting themselves.

Although currently the focus is on COVID-19 and mental health, Nkhalamba points out that the show shall continue in future with other mental health topics. “The idea is that at some point we take the programme to the community with a radio or TV journalist to facilitate a discussion and gain their views about mental health issues,” she stresses. This can be a way of enlightening people on mental health issues, but also of hearing what communities in Malawi think about mental health. “For most Malawians, there is a stigma attached to mental health, where people associate mental health issues with being locked up or being violent. We want to make it okay to be talking about mental health without being labelled.”