By Michaela Tangan
Features Writer, The Philippine STAR

For somebody with anxiety and depression, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic feels like being stuck in a circus, carnival, and Metro Manila during a Friday rush hour, combined. The word ‘overwhelming’ can’t measure up to the feelings whirling inside.

On some days, thoughts of uncertainty will greet you upon waking up in the morning. There’s “Will I still have a job tomorrow?” and “Can I still afford food and pay bills in the coming months?” Feelings of helplessness, irritability, and confusion, including the struggle with focus, inspiration and productivity, are right on your tail in the afternoon.

If you’re lucky, you’ll just roll from side to side for minutes before falling asleep. But for most nights, you’ll be followed by fears about COVID-19. Boulders of thoughts like, “Did I catch the virus at work?” or “What will happen to my family if I get infected by the virus?” will lead to panic.

It’s okay, you are not alone

The World Health Organization (WHO) shared reports from different countries, showing the pandemic’s increased impact on mental health.

In Ethiopia, there was a three-fold increase in the prevalence of symptoms of depression. China, the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak, reported high rates of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Healthcare workers in Canada have also reported a need for psychological support.

Italy and Spain have said that children in their country have difficulties concentrating, irritability, restlessness, and nervousness. Meanwhile, in the UK, 32% of young people with a history of mental health needs agreed that the pandemic had worsened their mental health problems.

While there are currently no such figures available for the Philippines, public and private groups have launched initiatives to help Filipinos struggling with mental health. Social groups encourage people to talk to mental health professionals and support groups via phone and online consultations, psychotherapy, and workshops. Meanwhile, social workers or the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) give ample support for those suffering from COVID-19 and their families.

There are also continuous mental health information, education and communication campaigns on social media.

Moving forward together

To face mental health issues, the WHO suggests the continued support for community actions that strengthen social cohesion and reduce loneliness, particularly for the most vulnerable.

“Such support is required from the government, local authorities, private sector and the general public, with initiatives such as the provision of food parcels, regular phone check-ins with people living alone, and organization of online activities for intellectual and cognitive stimulation,” WHO said.

WHO also sees the current situation as an opportunity to build a mental health system that is fit for the future.

“The scaling-up and reorganization of mental health services that are now needed on a global scale is an opportunity to build a mental health system that is fit for the future. This means developing and funding national plans that shift care away from institutions to community services, ensuring coverage for mental health conditions in health insurance packages and building the human resource capacity to deliver quality mental health and social care in the community,” WHO – Department of Mental Health and Substance Use director Dévora Kestel said.