Coping with the Silent Killer: Mental health crisis amid COVID-19 pandemic

coping-with-the-silent-killer-mental-health-crisis-amid-covid-19-pandemic

These days we live in a constant state of worry. We’re worried about the counts on news reports; about how many masks we have left; or if anyone on your street has to go in a medical transport. When is your vaccination schedule coming? How much money can we spare for groceries? What about the well-being of our elderly and kids? The stability of our jobs?

Have you stopped to think about your brain?

We may live in a state of joy sometimes, but that doesn’t stop us from knowing the elephant in the room could strike us down.

The state of mental health in the Philippines

Beds may be full-up in the hospitals right about now. But there’s not much going on in terms of mental health — at least, not a lot dominating the TV screens. 

It’s mostly vaccination rollouts and at-capacity hospitals. Compared to those, reports about mental health are barely visible.

“As all efforts are focused on understanding the epidemiology, clinical features, transmission patterns, and management of the COVID‐19 outbreak, there has been very little concern expressed over the effects on one’s mental health and on strategies to prevent stigmatization,” states a 2020 study by Javed and Sarwer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that “mental and behavioral disorders account for about 14% of the global burden of disease and as many as 450 million people suffer from these illnesses.”

Moreover, the local chapter of WHO found that “at least 3.6 million Filipinos suffer from one kind of mental, neurological, and substance use disorder.”

When it comes to mental health in general, it’s primarily uncharted waters. Of course, physical health is critical, but we can’t neglect our mental health, either. 

The aftereffects of the Coronavirus 

The pandemic has lasted for a year. It showed up around the earliest days of January 2020. We’re now past the midway point of 2021, and it feels like it’s been forever.

Think of all the trips you couldn’t go on, all the opportunities you missed. You missed the birthdays of important people in your life. You missed holidays with your family.

Think of all the terrible things that have happened, even as we all are supposed to be staying home. Think of all the riots, the conflicts that raged. 

And of course, what about the people we have lost these past few years?

The Coronavirus is a horrifying disease in itself. But also, it has put us through a range of emotions, and most are not the good kind. Introverts might enjoy the fact that they have to stay at home, but confinement isn’t good for a human being.

“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD. 

In the Brigham Young University professor’s meta-analysis, she found that social isolation was comparable with “established risk factors for mortality.” Additionally, “lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder.”

Speaking of vices, we turn to different vices when barred from our usual ones. Actions like going out for most of the day, hanging out with friends, eating out during dinner rush were typical, but now they might as well be. 

Due to the nature of the Coronavirus, these things feel irresponsible and unlawful.

Stress? In your pandemic? It’s more likely than you think.

Stress can cause a lot of adverse side effects, such as messing up your sleeping patterns. Are you eating enough? Are you eating at the right time? You may also find it hard to concentrate. In addition, any pre-diagnosed health issues might either resurface or worsen. And in terms of vices, people might turn to things like alcohol or cigarettes to forget or ease their suffering.

The Mental Health Foundation has a guide to help you deal with your mental health during this new normal. So does the CDC.

Local studies on the pandemic’s effects 

A study compared the mental health parameters of Filipinos and Chinese in their respective home countries. It found that Filipino respondents had “significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress than Chinese [respondents].” However, the Chinese respondents still had quite a number done on them. “Chinese respondents’ IES-R scores were above the cut-off for PTSD symptoms.”

Additionally, Filipinos “were more likely to report physical symptoms resembling COVID-19 infection.” Also, they frequently and recently used medical services but had low confidence in it. Respondents from the country also reported “recent direct and indirect contact with COVID” and were generally concerned about their families contracting the disease.

Filipino respondents were dissatisfied with health information. On the other hand, Chinese respondents required more health information about the Coronavirus.

Anyone who was a student had low confidence in health services and health information, and worried about their family was noted to have poor mental health.

In a 2020 study of the psychological impact of the pandemic on a national scale,

“In total, 16.3% of respondents rated the psychological impact of the outbreak as moderate-to-severe; 16.9% reported moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms; 28.8% had moderate-to-severe anxiety levels, and 13.4% had moderate-to-severe stress levels.”

The findings stated that women, youth, singles, and students were the demographics who were most psychologically affected by the pandemic. These were the kinds of people who tended to have “higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression.” Also, people who had poor health, or were worried over family members’ conditions, were among the most affected by the quarantine and prolonged isolation. This also included people subjected to discrimination.

However, it’s not all bad. People who had enough health information had grown-up children, and were confident in health personnel like doctors had a lesser psychological impact. In turn, they had lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Self-care could save your life

It’s important to take care of yourself. That means all aspects of your being. So if you’re reading this, take this as a sign: Contact your friends and family — via phone, via the internet, anything will do. Have video calls on the platforms available to you. Message them every day. 

Take up a new hobby. Or, if you already have them, do them frequently. For example, do a couple of jumping jacks when you have nothing to do. Go out and enjoy some fresh air for an hour or two, especially if you have a yard or a balcony. You’ll feel a bit better with a hot meal. Have your water bottle filled and ready at all times. Get enough sleep.

Remember: YOU are a human being experiencing hardships. Being surrounded by love can help ease stress. But, even if you live alone, you still have yourself… and these National Mental Health Crisis Hotline numbers:

Source: https://doh.gov.ph/NCMH-Crisis-Hotline.

– Alex/WhatALife.ph


Also Read: Lockdown repercussions: More Filipinos experiencing with mental health issues, says NCMH