Days of extra anxiety
The global health crisis spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to feelings of confusion, paranoia, and anxiety among the public. Those emotions, already overwhelming to many ordinary folk, are magnified and felt even more keenly by people with existing mental health conditions.
That is why mental health is one area that should not be ignored in this crisis, reminded the World Health Organization (WHO). Rather, these anxieties and fears — including fear of getting infected by a virus that still has no cure, of death, of running out of food and money, of losing one’s job, of normal life as we know it forever disrupted — should be acknowledged and addressed.
“…As new measures and impacts are introduced—especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods—levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behavior are also expected to rise,” said the WHO’s regional office for Europe, which has become the most affected region in the world, with Spain and Italy among the hardest-hit countries.
The UN agency has encouraged health institutions, communities, and governments to be aware of the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of their constituents, particularly of vulnerable sectors such as the elderly and those with existing health problems; children; those who got sick with and have recovered from the coronavirus; and frontline health workers who may experience extreme pressure from their jobs and be subjected to stigma.
The stress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted, can manifest through changes in sleep or eating patterns, and increased consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. Other symptoms include headaches, migraine, digestive problems, palpitations, back pain, and panic attacks. Worse, panic attacks can lead to symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus, which in turn would trigger another cycle of anxiety.
Local experts, joining the ranks of many ordinary Filipinos who have seen the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis and have chosen to lend a hand in whatever way they can, are offering tools and resources by which people can access help on how to manage their fears and anxieties.
Psychologists and mental health advocates in Dumaguete City, for example, have banded themselves into a group called “Your Mental Health Amid Corona Virus” on Facebook, and have been offering “virtual group support conversation” through Zoom since March 28. The members also provide one-on-one consultations through online platforms.
LifeRisks, a nonprofit organization in Pampanga focusing on mental health service, has put up a free well-being self-assessment test called GPULSECOVID19 that is accessible online. The self-evaluation tool, with questions lifted from reliable and valid research instruments, takes only from 10 to 15 minutes to accomplish and provides results immediately after, as well as tips on how to take care of one’s mental health amid the pandemic.
The partial findings of the GPULSECOVID19 survey as of March 31 are telling: 19.74 percent of respondents from the National Capital Region, which has been locked down since March 15, “are feeling severe anxiety symptoms.”
LifeRisks also shares tips from Mind HK, a mental health charity based in Hong Kong, such as acknowledging emotions regularly, rather than ignoring them; checking on loved ones; talking to trusted people but avoiding talking only about the coronavirus; getting enough sleep; eating nutritious meals; engaging in creative activities, especially for children; and exercising. “In this situation, we need to remain optimistic, and physically and mentally healthy, as this will be key to our psychological resilience in overcoming this challenge…” said Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.
And while it’s important to be updated with the news and latest information on the pandemic, experts warn against overconsumption and information overload, as these could cause even higher levels of anxiety. Seek information only from trusted sources and experts, because facts can help minimize fears. “Get the facts, not rumors and misinformation,” emphasized the WHO.
This is an extraordinarily stressful time, but there is help and a listening ear available for those grappling internally with the disruptions brought about by the pandemic.
Mental health support services are also available from these institutions: National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline (0917-899-8727 or 7-989-8727); UP Diliman Psychosocial Services (Viber or text: 0906-374-3466); Circle of Hope Community Services (0917-822-2324, 0925-557-0888); In Touch Community Services for health and safety frontliners (8-893-7603, 0917-800-1123, 0922-893-8944).
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