Mental health epidemic
Along with the ongoing (and escalating) COVID-19 pandemic, there is another “epidemic” running rampant not just within our shores but also throughout the rest of the world. And that is the epidemic assaulting our mental health, especially that of young people.
They are beset by a set of dismaying circumstances: deprived of schooling and therefore of the company of their peers; cooped up in their homes; with little or no access to the rest of the world save for that glimpsed in social media; and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness engendered by the threat of disease. All these would be enough to drive even the sanest and most emotionally stable adult bonkers. But adolescence brings with it even more daunting challenges, including an ongoing and frustrating search for self and meaning, doubts about one’s direction in life, and fears for the future. Adolescence is an exhilarating, hopeful time, but it can also be filled with darkness and doubt, exacerbated by the fears and tensions swirling about the pandemic.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, suicide incidents rose by 25.7 percent in 2020, which made it the 27th leading cause of death last year, up from 31st in 2019. From 2015 to 2020, the average number of deaths by suicide was tracked at 2,630. While the figure includes adults, an increasing number of young people are choosing what has been called “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
An Ipsos survey of 977 parents in the United States, with children between 13 and 18 years old, found that nearly half of respondents said their teenagers faced “new or worsening mental health conditions since the pandemic began.” Measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, said poll co-director Dr. Gary Freed, “have severely disrupted the lives” of young people. Social distancing policies have kept teens at home “at the age they were primed to seek independence from their families,” leading many teens feeling “frustrated, anxious and disconnected.”
No surprise, but the parents taking part in the poll said the pandemic environment has affected more girls with more devastating effects. Girls, said the parents, reported higher levels of depression and anxiety. But, Freed pointed out, the “most important takeaway is that both girls and boys are struggling and need support.”
The situation is replicated elsewhere. In Europe, reported the New York Times, mental health experts have painted a “grim picture of a crisis that they say should be treated as seriously as containing the virus.” In Italy and in the Netherlands, “some youth psychiatry wards have filled to record capacity. In France, where the pandemic’s toll on mental health has made headlines, professionals have urged the authorities to consider reopening schools to fight loneliness. And in Britain, some therapists said that they had counseled patients to break lockdown guidelines to cope.”
“We are in the midst of a mental health pandemic, and I don’t think it’s treated with near enough respect,” said Arkadius Kyllendahl, a psychotherapist in London who, per the Times, “has seen the number of younger clients double in recent months.”
Locally, Inquirer columnist Gideon Lasco and Gia Sison wrote in a shared commentary published last year that efforts are being undertaken by various quarters to help people cope mentally and emotionally with the pandemic. These include webinars on mental health as well as hotlines offering advice for those needing help or simply someone to talk to. The government, aside from supporting such efforts, could also help the situation by “providing accurate information, clear direction, and reassuring leadership,” said Lasco and Sison.
We are in the midst of a rising wave of new COVID-19 cases, with variants rendering the virus even more infectious and transmissible, while quarantine fatigue has led some folk to increasingly ignore the common precautions. Economic pressure has also forced many to resume their workaday lives, with authorities eager to reopen businesses even as the slow rollout of vaccines and patchy information on the inoculation drive are likewise generating frustration, fears, and sometimes resistance to the vaccine campaign.
With the same draconian, punitive policies in place one year after the virus first made its presence felt, and with the specter of new lockdowns still present as cases spike, the great black cloud of depression, anxiety, and restlessness weighs ever more heavily on people, but none more so than on the generation set to inherit and create the post-COVID-19 future.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Center for Mental Health hotline at 0917-899-USAP (8727), (02) 7-989-USAP, or 1553 (landline to landline, toll-free); HOPELINE Philippines at (02) 88044673, 0917-5584673 or 2919 (Toll Free for all Globe and TM subscribers), or 0918-8734673 (Smart); or In Touch Crisis Line at (02) 88937603, 0917-8001123, or 0922-8938944.
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