Coping with Covid-19: a conversation with renowned psychiatrist Prof. Dixon Chibanda

Dixon speaking at TED conference on the friendship bench

In response to Covid-19, the Inuka Coaching Team has started organizing a webinar series to give everyone access to mental health experts. The first of this series took place 15th of April 2020, and we all loved it. In this article we share the context and insights that were shared in the conversation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed daily life in the most unexpected way. Suddenly and abruptly humanity has had to adjust. Self-distancing, quarantine and permanent lockdowns mean many are dealing with loss of employment, new home life situations, and social isolation, among other changes.

Inuka Coaching Co-founder Prof. Chibanda in his TED talk

¨These changes,¨ according to acclaimed psychiatrist and Inuka co-founder Dr. Dixon Chibanda, ¨are affecting mental health on a global scale and occasioned by a rise in suicide anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide rates. To add to this, 90% of people requiring evidence-based care for mental health do not get it because there are not enough professionals to provide this care. ¨Inuka, Dr. Chibanda continued, “is on a mission to change this. We want to lower the barriers to give and find effective mental health support.¨

As part of this mission, the Inuka team hosted a conversation open to all with Prof. Dixon Chibanda. The aim was to learn more on how to keep your mental balance amidst Covid-19 stress — and share it with you here.

And who better to have this conversation with than one of the world’s leading experts on mental health? You might know Dixon Chibanda from his viral TED talk ‘why I train grandmothers to treat depression’, but Prof. Dixon Chibanda has helped people across the world to deal with stressful situations ranging from coping with work stress, HIV/AIDS, depression to poverty. He is currently associate professor at the London school of hygiene and tropical Medicine, and starred next to Prince William, amongst others, on the Davos stage.

Dixon also co-founded Inuka, a social enterprise with the mission to make effective mental care accessible for everyone. we train, certify and supervise coaches on a proven method dixon developed, and connect them with people who seek support. Typically 4 sessions are sufficient for people to feel back on track. Dixon is chief of coaching & research.

Inuka platform makes effective mental health support accessible to everyone by offering InukaMethod certified coaches, anytime, anywhere.

Normally Inuka offers digital mental health coaching programs for companies here in Europe, but in the Covid-19 context the Inuka team believed more should be done:

  • A global ‘pay what you can’ campaign is launched open to all where you can book a personal coach
  • We share our learnings from our coaches how to deal with Covid-19 stress with others, like “9 Lessons Learned from Supporting Remote Workers Through COVID-19 Stress”
  • Explore how to give everyone access to Inuka’s mental health experts, by for example sharing their insights with the world in the ‘Coping with Covid-19’ series.

This weeks kick-off took place with Prof. Chibanda, and next week we will have another webinar with our chief psychology in the Netherlands, bjarne timonen.

Here are the key questions and answers during the 30-minute conversation with Prof. Chibanda:

Q1: Could you provide tips/tricks to use tech to get out of loneliness, even though we have a tech overload at the moment?

  • Connect with people with whom you have a nourishing relationship
  • Use tech to connect to things that nourish you, your soul. e.g. the music of Andrea Bocelli that was streamed live for free recently from Milan.
  • Spend time doing activities together, such as gaming, colouring or making puzzles, rather than looking at the screen.

Q2: How to cope with people asking you for emotional support and not be drained yourself?

  • Rule #1: you cannot take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself.
  • What is it that nourishes you?
  • Identify anchors that help you to keep going: Exercise, meditation, music, reading, cooking,… Whatever it is. NEVER, never ever stop doing those things that give you energy.

For example, what Dixon does:

  • Morning run, tai chi, meditation & a reads a book (currently 21 solutions for the 21st century)
  • Have structure in your life and do the things that keep you going, never stop doing those.

Q3: How do you deal with the fears that many are facing now?

  • The unknown is a challenge for all of us. Fear of dying, losing loved ones,… best way to handle such genuine fear is to confront it:
  • Who would you like to come to your funeral, who are the people you would like to talk with if you only had 2 weeks to live.
  • It helps you to live in the now, and confronting your fears grounds you into the now moment.
  • Best way to live with fear is to confront it.

Q4: How do you help someone who is undergoing domestic abuse as a result of the lockdown especially? I know relatives who have been locked by their husbands in the house in the name of fighting covid while in reality its just torturing them

This is a common question indeed.

One of the things that help is to find a way to refer people to appropriate effective help.


  • In the UK they have released an app where people can reach the appropriate resources.
  • In Zimbabwe / Kenya the police could be helpful. In Zimbabwe there is a law that says that if you beat up your spouse you go to jail.
  • Some countries have community groups, neighbor groups that can help people.

Violence is often triggered by something trivial, so it should be prevented. Best way is to help people to find the appropriate, effective resources that these individuals can reach out to.

Q5: Also, how do you ensure kids mental health during this period? and keep them safe Joyce from Kenya!

Kids need your attention. They need to feel your attention is there for them at the moment. Caregivers should at plenty of times be present in the moment with their kids, for example 1h/day where you are there and listen empathically in the moment to your kid.

Q6: How do we deal with spending this amount of time inside with kids or husbands/wives which could be very challenging?

You need to have structured time for your activities. Time for you, time for your family. You need to have time where you go off and simply do your own thing; reading a book, sitting in garden, talking to your best friend… get the time and do it.

One of the reasons there is an upsurge in domestic violence it’s because people can no longer take their time for themselves.

This means you need to sit down with your housemates to agree with them what time is for what: have structure that addresses your needs at an individual level.

Last closing remarks from Dixon:

  • Exercise physically, no matter how small your space is. It is of vital importance.
  • Exercise your brain as well — read things that help you grow, that stimulate your intelligence.

This first event was a bit of an experiment, but felt as a great success, so we will do this on a weekly basis so to give more people access to mental health experts. Next week up: Bjarne Timonen. He is a licensed healthcare psychologist, coach, media psychologist and author of De Leefstijlgids Tegen Somberheid (The Lifestyle Guide Against Somberness, in Dutch). He regularly does media performances to promote lifestyle psychology and is known from the Dutch television series Koopziek (shopping addiction) and the documentary Roes (on alcohol). On Wednesday April 22nd he will host the next Coping with Covid-19 webinars by Inuka Coaching.

Next week’s “Coping with Covid-19” webinar will be with our Chief Psychology, Bjarne Timonen.

Want to join the coping with Covid-19 series?

Follow us on social media to stay tuned:

@inuka_io Twitter

@Inuka.Io Facebook

@Inukacoaching Instagram

Inuka Linkedin

Or join our private ConnectForReal Facebook group.

Struggling with Covid-19 stress yourself? Inuka has top-quality coaches available, anytime, anywhere on our confidential platform.Visit our webpage to book your personal coach today. For the duration of Covid-19, this is on a pay-what-you-can basis to ensure everyone has access.

Do you want to support employees struggling with Covid-19? Inuka specializes in offering simple digital coaching programs for organizations, anywhere, in many different languages. Visit our business page to learn more.


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