One year into lockdown, coronavirus pandemic fatigue grips Philippines

Thea Alberto-Masakayan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 16 2021 11:39 AM

One year into lockdown, coronavirus pandemic fatigue grips Philippines 1
Devotees offer prayers as they attend the Ash Wednesday Mass to mark the beginning of Lent at the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran, Parañaque on February 17, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

It’s a never-ending cycle of worry, uncertainty, and cabin fever. Now, pandemic fatigue is gripping more Filipinos, endangering the general public’s mental health. 

This is evident in the increase of calls to helplines, fully-booked consultation schedules, and rise in activities that seek to combat stress.

Psychologist Randy Dellosa said Filipinos have grown “sick and tired of trying to consider as a ‘new normal’ what in reality is an obvious ‘abnormal.’’

“Simply put, pandemic fatigue is the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion of having to endure the whole experience of the coronavirus pandemic,” Dellosa told ABS-CBN News. 

This arises from a human’s natural desire to stick to his routine, which was abruptly destroyed by the COVID-19 health crisis, said Dellosa. 

Now, estimates show some 3.6 million Filipinos are suffering from mental health problems, but it is harder to paint the full picture as access to healthcare professionals remain a challenge. 

Based on the national prevalence study on mental, neurological and substance use disorders reported by National Mental Health Program by Frances Prescilla Cuevas, at least 1,145,871 people are suffering from depressive disorder.

Up until October 6, the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) received around 32 to 37 calls since March 17, raising the monthly average calls to 907. Data from October onwards are unavailable as of posting. 

Pandemic fatigue and complacency

Pandemic fatigue can manifest as “feelings of boredom, restlessness, irritability, frustration, anger, pessimism, depression, and anxiety,” Dellosa said. 

This may also include loss of motivation for school or work, loss of the sense of enjoyment, sleep disturbances, appetite and weight changes, poor focus, pessimism, or even contemplating self-injury, he said. 

The World Health Organization has warned that pandemic fatigue could lead to “complacency and alienation” on warnings about COVID-19 and make it harder for the general public to adhere to health protocols. This appeared true in the case of the Philippines, which saw a new surge of coronavirus infections a year into the pandemic. 

“For some people, the balance may shift, and the perceived costs of the response may start to outweigh the perceived risks related to the virus,” said WHO. 

But the public must not be complacent, or else the virus will keep replicating and even develop into more variants, warned Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, who is part of the technical working group that advises the Department of Health.

“I get this feeling that people are more complacent. Maybe it’s also brought about by the fact we've gone through the first one. And although it was something that you would not call a pleasant experience, people did live through it. They did see that most cases are mild. So maybe that informs the way we react," she told ANC on Monday.

One year into lockdown, coronavirus pandemic fatigue grips Philippines 2
A temporarily closed cinema inside a mall in Pasay City on February 20, 2021. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

What the government can do

While it appears to be a personal health crisis, governments can significantly help people combat pandemic stress. 

According to WHO, these are some of the steps the government should take:

- shifting messaging (from “do not” to “do differently”); 
- avoiding judgment and blame of public behavior as “this can contribute to shame and alienation more than engagement and motivation.”
- avoiding an economy-versus-health dichotomy 
“Personal economic hardship can result in demotivation, and so pandemic response measures may include efforts to keep the economy and businesses going.”
- Creating opportunities for people “to fill their time productively if isolated or unemployed due to the pandemic.”
- Appealing to people “rather than blame, scare or threaten them. Recognize that everyone is contributing.”
- Being clear, precise and predictable by using simple words to communicate risks and warnings 

One year into lockdown, coronavirus pandemic fatigue grips Philippines 3
Hundreds of minimum health protocol violators from different communities in Quezon City are apprehended and processed at the Quezon City Memorial Circle on Friday in an effort to curb the new surge of COVID-19 infections in Metro Manila. The police together with the local government Task Force Disiplina are enforcing the restrictions, but only gave tickets and face masks this time. Jire Carreon, ABS-CBN News

Coping on a personal level

Dellosa said doing the following may help combat pandemic fatigue.

- Being physically and mentally active as much as possible.
- Limiting after-work or after-school screen time to 2-3 hours.
- Finding meaningful activities to stay busy. 
- Creating a social and emotional support system despite quarantine restrictions.
- Keeping informed with factual news.
- Finding creative ways to help others.
- Avoiding friction between family members and partners. 
- Nurturing spiritual life. 
- Seeking professional help for mental health issues.


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- With reports from Josiah Antonio, ABS-CBN News