By Patricia B. Mirasol
The National Center for Mental Health’s hotline has received an average of 876 calls per month between March to August this year, up from the pre-pandemic average of 350, said Dr. Rodney Boncajes, a psychiatrist at the said hospital, in a recent mental health forum organized by J&J Philippines, Inc.
Individuals have been responding to coronavirus stress in different ways, including panic, anxiety, and distress. There has also been an increase in the number of web searches for depression while under quarantine.
The biggest problem, according to Dr. Amadeo Alinea Jr., president of the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA), is that isolation due to the lockdown has been counterproductive, especially among those suffering from mental health issues. “This isolation is not what we encouraged prior to this pandemic. We wanted (these individuals) to interact and go back to mainstream society.”
INCREASING AWARENESS IS KEY
Addressing mental health challenges is a long-term journey, and an increase in awareness is key to decreasing the stigmatization around actively seeking help for it. Raghu Krishnan, J&J Philippines president and managing director, related several collaborations in Southeast Asia that aim to combat these challenges. Among these initiatives are Anino ng Kahapon, an indie film that decreases the stigma around schizophrenia and advocates for medication adherence. Another is the PESO (Patient’s Equity to Support “Out-of-pocket expense”) Value project that pushes for a pooling financial system to address the costs of treatment for mental health.
Part of the awareness drive is knowing where to get the appropriate intervention. Several hotlines offering mental health counseling are available to anyone who needs to talk things through. The PPA likewise launched Mind Matters, which offers free consultations for frontliners weighing against the mental strain of COVID-19’s demands.
“It’s important not to pathologize everybody just because they feel depressed,” Dr. Alinea said, although those with symptoms that interfere with basic life functions such as working and socializing should seek professional help.
ENCOURAGING HEALTHY HABITS
A silver lining of the pandemic is that it has encouraged wholesome behaviorial changes. More and more people are turning to gardening as a way to cope. There has also been a growing demand to sustain healthier eating habits and self-care practices.
“[Those experiencing quarantine fatigue] should practice self-kindness, avoid comparison, and take regular breaks,” advised Dr. Boncajes. He also suggested expressing one’s needs to avoid misunderstanding, and listening to others in the same boat to learn how others are coping. Finding a balance between online and physical activity, meanwhile, was recommended for children stuck at home.
There is no black and white for minimizing anxieties. Both doctors suggested finding enjoyable activities—whether they be related to nature, art, pets, or music—that can help effectively manage stress. Both also emphasized the importance of nurturing a good support network as a means of staving off anxiety.