MANILA — People from different age groups and social classes have become more vulnerable to mental health problems, a psychologist warned, as the Philippines' coronavirus crisis persisted.
With worries on financial stability, job losses, and getting infected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the pandemic now brings an “accompanying pandemic of mental health issues," said Dr. Randy Dellosa.
It also does not help that people are forced into isolation, and families have not been allowed to get together in fears of the virus spreading.
“Triggered by prolonged quarantine and lockdowns, people have been experiencing "cabin fever" characterized by feelings of isolation, boredom, "trappedness," helplessness, and hopelessness,” Dellosa told ABS-CBN News.
He added that extroverts, who get energy and motivation from socializing, will feel "trapped." Students and work-from-home employees meanwhile are expected to suffer from mental fatigue with their new workload.
“Students will experience an adjustment disorder having to cope with the stressful experience of online schooling,” Dellosa said.
"Employees who work from home also experience an adjustment disorder due to flexi-time, extended work hours, and new online workload,” he added.
Dellose said he is seeing a rise in the number of cases on the following mental health illnesses: major depression, anxiety disorder
addictions, acute stress disorder, illness anxiety disorder, germophobia, and adjustment disorder
Dellosa noted that those with higher risk include “those with previously-existing mental or physical health issues.”
Identifying and helping the vulnerable sector
Back in 2005, the National Statistics Office identified mental illness as the "third most prevalent form of morbidity" in the Philippines. The outdated data cannot however accurately depict the mental health situation, with only 88 cases of mental health problems reported for every 100, 000 of the population. Thousands remain undiagnosed and those who have pre-existing conditions are having a hard time coping with the pandemic.
Take the case of 26-yeor-old Noelle Capili, who is diagnosed with bipolar 1, depression, and anxiety.
“Kahit na sabihing introvert rin ako, I can't cope with the quarantine period. Nahihirapan ako magcope lalo na at lagi’t lagi akong inaatake ng episodes ko,” Capili told ABS-CBN News on Thursday.
(Even if you say that I’m an introvert, I can't cope with the quarantine period. I am having a hard time coping especially during times that I’m having episodes.)
These episodes may include panic attacks, difficulty breathing, chest pains, crying spells, among others.
Capili is coping by connecting more to parents and peers, seeking professional help, and finding ways to stay busy.
“Nagco-cope ako by being busy and sinasabi ko agad sa parents ko kapag may episodes ako. Moreover, nagche-check-up na rin ako sa doc ko kahit online lang,” Capili said.
(I’m coping by being busy I immediately tell my parents when I’m having episodes. Moreover, I do check-ups with my doctor online.)
How can Filipinos cope with the pandemic?
Dellosa said during trying times, it is best for a person to be pro-active.
“Instead of being bogged down by worries and fears, the pro-active person identifies problems and finds creative and practical solutions for them,” Dellosa said.
“On the other hand, emotionally-reactive people wallow in their worries and fears, thereby paralyzing themselves,” he added.
He advised seeking professional help to make the patient understand what he or she is going through.
“Although everyone is experiencing some degree of psychological distress, there are some psychological and physical symptoms for which a psychologist or psychiatrist is needed,” the doctor said.
“Symptoms to watch out for include: changes in the mood, sleep pattern, appetite, energy level, concentration, and motivation. Of course, when people develop tendencies for self-harm or suicide, then psychiatric help is urgently needed,” he added.
Dellosa also advised Filipinos to combat pandemic stress by doing the following:
- Establish a regular schedule for routines and tasks
- Aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes daily
- Limiting after-school/ after-work gadget screen time to 2-3 hours a day
- Avoid over-sleeping, under-sleeping, and over-eating
- Find interesting hobbies
- Create an emotional support system of good friends, even virtually
- Find creative ways to help others in need
- Stay informed with factual news
- Nurture your spiritual life
Preventing a new pandemic
On World Mental Health Day, October 10, the World Health Organization has called on the public to "post videos showing what they do in support of their mental well-being ̶ whether it be dancing, walking, doing yoga, cooking, painting."
The WHO said the pandemic has brought many challenges to all sectors, especially those who lost their loved one to the virus.
"For people with mental health conditions, many [are] experiencing even greater social isolation than before. And this is to say nothing of managing the grief of losing a loved one, sometimes without being able to say goodbye," it said in a statement.
WHO also urged the government to boost funding for mental health and psychosocial support.
"Investment in mental health programmes at the national and international levels, which have already suffered from years of chronic underfunding, is now more important than it has ever been," it said.