After an intense period of stimulating debate by various professionals in the field of public health, social commentators, politicians,  businessmen and women, and many others on lockdown, shut-down, close-down, boxed-in, the man with the ultimate authority on the matter, President Nana Akufo-Addo  has invoked his constitutional mandate (and in this instance with particular reference to the Imposition of Restriction Act, 2020, Act, 1012), to impose a two-week partial lockdown on the two most populous regions in the country together with a portion (Ewutu Senya East – Kasoa and its environs) of the Central region, effective, 1:00 am, on Monday, March 30, 2020.

In arriving at the decision the President seems to have taken into consideration our unique socio-cultural practices, purchasing power of the majority of the citizens, dominant mode of transportation and predominant settlement patterns. With the lockdown already in place, the discussion should now be shifted from what should have been done to what can be done to ensure that the measures rolled out are adhered to in order to achieve the expected goals. This is the time for all of us to uphold the portion of the National Pledge which urges us to …… be faithful and loyal to Ghana my motherland’ so that together and with unity of purpose we can ensure maximum compliance and support the President’s objective to contain community and for that matter, potential exponential spread of COVID-19.   

With the lockdown in place, what are the critical psycho-social issues ahead of us within these two weeks and what can be done to ensure that the period helps us not only to contain the spread as a country but also enables us,  individually and collectively, to derive useful life lessons.  From a psychologist’s perspective, the key issues for consideration include; adjusting to a restricted life and managing boredom, compliance and law-enforcement, social safety nets for the needy and the vulnerable, reflections on life, family and humanity and keeping a balance between COVID-19 and already existing health conditions. These are some of the key issues which when tackled effectively would help ensure the success of the lockdown and also reduce boredom, anxiety and stress.

Adjustment to restricted life and managing boredom

Human beings like freedom – speech, movement, association, choice, etc. – hence restrictions on any of these even if they will be beneficial to the individual in the long term or for the greater good, is not likely to be accepted willingly. Freedom and human rights have been explicitly enshrined in the constitution of many countries throughout the world, and Ghana is no exception.

Freedom of movement and association, in particular, are deeply cherished by many people because they are less restricted by law, socio-economic status or time compared with the others. Freedom of movement, for instance, is linked with freedom of association, ‘bread-and-butter’ issues and almost everything that makes us human and functional living beings.

As part of our daily routine, over time certain routes (including those to our workplace, to where we worship, to the homes of families and friends, where we buy our favourite meals, etc.) become part of our geographical compass. The liberty to use these routes and many others unrestricted (except by choice, financial constraints physical limitation, etc.) give us a sense of control of our lives, that of others, our environment and beyond.

Consequently, anytime we are inhibited in our movement by external factors – sickness or others as is the case with the current situation – we tend to feel that we have lost our sense of control, ability, self-will and as a result, we tend to resent, resist or complain. The resistance is not only with the psychological loss of control but also the adjustment we have to make in order to fit into the newly imposed ‘position’ and related lifestyle changes.

Even in sickness, our inability to move around freely is one of the major factors subjectively used to determine whether we are completely down or not. Indeed, some persons decline/refuse hospitalization because of the level of restriction to free movement. Indeed, bed-ridden illnesses tend to induce more anxiety not so much from the severity of the illness but also the immobility associated with it.

In general, restrictions in movement tend to affect high sensational seekers more than low sensational seekers. The term ‘high sensational seekers’ in this context refers to those who usually like to be where ‘the action’ is, mostly like to be noticed in a social setting, and tend to be very loud and exhibitionist. Low sensational seekers, on the other hand, are those who usually like to be in the background, tend to keep a low profile and even avoid too much exposure.

Restriction and its accompanying inability by the individual to engage in certain preferred or addicted behaviours may lead to boredom, annoyance, anger and general discomfort for some persons while for others, it is not a big deal hence they easily adjust and lead a normal life. The ability to adjust to new situations and environment is one of the barometers used in assessing an individual’s level of normality or otherwise. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to or would make the effort to adjust especially those who perceive the situation as unfair and do not see any potential benefit or interpret it as a form of incarceration and forceful removal of one’s liberty.

During this period of lockdown, some of the factors which could lead to stress and boredom include congested homes (little or no space to manoeuvre, personal spaces are constantly violated), antagonistic relationships between husband and wife and among occupants of compound houses over use of spaces, failure/refusal to sweep or scrub the washroom, money matters (when everyone is at home expenditure rises and more funds are needed for sustenance) and other irritants such as noise.

Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do to help us adjust, kill boredom, enjoy the ‘holidays’, rest/relax, recuperate and also boost our immune system against COVID-19. It is time for all of us to realize that life circumstance can change drastically hence there is the need to always prepare for the unexpected and the worst case scenario.

Potential boredom likely to arise from the restriction of our movement can be managed by the following: engage in your hobbies, read story books, magazines, newspapers and acquire new vocabulary and phrases, tell your family ananse stories, use your life experiences and that of others to advice your children, teach and read to them and let them read to you and in the process build or increase attachment and bonding with them.  This is also an opportunity to tackle outstanding or proposed work that time has not permitted you to do.

Other activities to keep you from boredom are; learn the lyrics of your favorite songs/hymns, read more chapters and pages of the Bible/Quran, watch movies, exercise more, do gardening, cut hedges, learn how to cook certain dishes/meals or to sew, compose songs or write stories, use the opportunity to call friends, families, neighbours and co-workers and play games (hide and seek/pilolo, oware, anto ankyire, monopoly, domino, etc.,) with your family.

Spouses may also take advantage to fully consummate their marriages through conjugal rights. In short, explore new areas and do what makes you happy and by the end of the lockdown you would experience a sense of rejuvenation and well-being. In all the things you do, don’t be carried away; observe the recommended protocols for keeping safe. 

Compliance and strict law enforcement:

Human societies do not only need laws to regulate their behaviours and actions but more importantly to ensure that those who adhere to the laws are protected while the miscreants are punished. As a predominantly religious country (with more than 70% and 15% Christians and Moslems respectively), we would not have much to be worried about law-abiding if we were to adhere to our respective religious doctrines even 30% of the time. But unfortunately, you and I know that this is not the case in Ghana. We seem to be more deviant when it comes to law-abiding hence we should brace ourselves for situations involving persons who will not comply with the directives thereby creating problems for all of us.

In anticipation of non-compliance by some persons, the security personnel should not compromise in the enforcement of the directives especially on the issue of movement of passenger vehicles to and from the restricted zones. The situation we find ourselves in now can be likened to the Law of Commons (LoC) in Psychology.

In practical application, the LoC in this context is a situation (a community or any given society) in which the action(s) or inaction(s) of a person or group of persons affect the rest or at least others within that community. In effect, we should not look on unconcerned when an individual or a group go contrary to, or engage in activities which are, or will be detrimental to the health, welfare and wellbeing of the rest of us. 

In our current situation, no one should be given the least opportunity to engage in careless and defiant behaviours. Rather, everyone must be whipped in line to ensure compliance for the general good. Indeed, lack of strict law enforcement is one of the banes of our under development and we should use this period to end blatant disobedience to law and authority.

Individuals and groups in positions of authority and influence should for the sake of mother Ghana desist from intervening and pleading on behalf of biological and social relations when they break the law. The law of effect as propounded by a very influential psychologist in learning, reward and punishment states among others that any behaviour which is followed by punishment has a higher probability of reducing in frequency if not eliminated altogether.

On the basis of this principle, let us not give the impression to the deviants that they can break the law and get away with it for that will increase their propensity to engage in that action again. Indeed, a cursory observation will inform us that strict law enforcement and the application of relevant sanctions are higher in developed countries and it has even been argued that it is one of the contributing factors for growth and development. China is said to have successfully contained COVID-19 through strict protocols and uncompromising law enforcement so let us take a cue from them.

Another issue of general concern to the public is deliberate misinformation and prank calls by some persons. I would like to use this opportunity to appeal to the head of the cybercrime unit to use technology to track/trace and prosecute those who initiate and spread false information such as placing voice-over unrelated material and thus create fear and panic and in the process also tarnish the image of others.

Those who make prank calls must be identified, arrested and punished and where that is not possible because the sim cards used are not duly registered, the telecom company whose cards were used for such calls must be sanctioned for given them out without following required guidelines.

In part two of this article social safety nets for the needy and the vulnerable, reflections on life, family and humanity and keeping a balance between COVID-19 and already existing health conditions will be discussed