PANDEMIC-INDUCED fear continues to weigh down Filipinos, who are calling crisis hotlines, searching the internet for wellness apps and anxiety remedies, and reporting a lack of focus. 

“Questions are triggered. People call and say, what if I die? I may not live. The idea of mortality is close to them,” said Jean L. Goulbourn, founder and chief executive officer of the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF), a non-profit organization founded in 2007 that helps individuals battle depression. 

Fear — the beginning of anxiety — is the number one reason that people call NGF’s hotlines, said Ms. Goulbourn, in an interview with BusinessWorld a day before Metro Manila entered enhanced community quarantine due to a surge in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.  

“COVID-19 is like depression. It does not choose age anymore, does not choose social status,” she said. “You can be a CEO and COVID-19 can still hit you. It’s exactly like depression.”  

Aside from calling organizations like NGF, Filipinos are also looking online for ways to calm their fraying nerves.  

Google searches for mental health services increased by 128% in the Philippines from January to May 2021 compared to the same period in 2019, according to a recent report by meta-search website iPrice. This increase places the Philippines second only to Indonesia, Asia’s COVID-19 epicenter, which recorded a 231% increase in searches for psychologists and similar services. 

The iPrice report also showed that Filipinos are increasingly interested in anxiety remedies such as scented candles (up 348%), weighted blankets (up 273%), essential oils (up 155%), and therapy lamps (up 139%), based on information collated from July 14 to 16 using Google Keyword Planner.  

Searches for wellness and meditation apps such as Headspace and Talkspace are also surging among Filipinos.  

These findings are on top of a poll by MindNation, a wellbeing organization, that showed that the local workforce is feeling the brunt of this pandemic. According to a study released this June, more than half of 6,000 respondents are worried about health risks and financial pressures.  

Among the challenges are a lack of focus and concentration, less pleasure in doing things normally enjoyed, lower self-confidence, sleeping problems, and feeling down.  

NGF’s Ms. Goulbourn said that because of the pandemic, the stigma for seeking help for mental health issues is less pronounced among Filipinos as COVID-19 has heightened everyone’s sense of mortality.  

“We’re confronted with death now,” she said, adding that a two-hour lecture on mental resilience is of little to no use. “One webinar cannot help,” she said, offering instead NGF’s four-month workshop as a “real course and workshop that creates hope in action.” — Patricia B. Mirasol 


Individuals seeking mental support may get in touch with the National Center for Mental Health hotlines at 1553, 0917-8998727, 7989-8727, or with Natasha Goulbourn Foundation’s HOPELINE at 8804-4673, 0918-8734673, and 0917-5584573.