Caring for Filipinos’ Mental Health Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic

covid19 and mental health

How have you been coping these past eight months stuck inside our houses since the lockdown started?

We regularly see in the news updates of Covid statistics – the number of those who’ve been infected with the virus, those who died, and those who recovered.

But what about those who’ve been suffering from anxiety, anguish, depression, and other mental health issues because of our Covid situation? 

Where do they go for help?

World Mental Health Day

Earlier this month, on October 10, 2020, World Mental Health Day was observed. Here in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH), along with several public and private groups, marked the event with various initiatives on mental health care.

We Filipinos are generally known for our cheerful demeanor and positive attitude, even in the midst of poverty, hardship, and calamities. In a press release last month, the DOH mentioned that the Philippines has consistently ranked among the top five in a global optimism index.

Mental Health Issues Amidst the Pandemic

When COVID-19 hit the country, however, the mental health situation seems to have changed. Due to the pandemic, numerous jobs have been affected, people are urged to stay at home, children are now studying online, and social distancing has become the norm. Many families are struggling to get by each day, while worrying about their health and safety.

All of these changes have had an impact on Filipinos’ mental health. The National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) stated that since the lockdown, the number of people calling their hotline has risen from 80 (before COVID) to almost 400! Cases of depression and suicide have also been reported, thus indicating the need to strengthen mental health programs.

Mental Health Programs in the Philippines 

Fortunately, the Philippine government, along with other public and private groups, have become more active in addressing the mental health situation of Filipinos. In the second week of October, National Mental Health Week was commemorated. It consisted of various initiatives like webinars, e-learning programs, online counseling, and other activities.

1. Webinars on Mental Health Topics. 

From October 5-10, the Philippine Mental Health Association (PMHA) conducted webinars about stress management, caring for family members with mental health conditions, and other topics. These were held in partnership with the DOH and several mental health organizations.

2. WHO QualityRights e-Learning Course

On October 10, the DOH launched the WHO QualityRights e-learning course, an online certificate program focusing on mental health. Developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and translated into Filipino, the course seeks to educate participants about mental health, how to support their family and friends who are experiencing mental health problems, and how to help address the stigma and abuse faced by people with such conditions.

The WHO QualityRights e-learning course is open to all health workers, policy makers, and anyone who is interested in knowing more about mental health. They can register for free through this website: https://humanrights-etrain-qualityrights.coorpacademy.com/signup.

3. NCMH Crisis Hotline 

The NCMH Crisis Hotline was launched on May 2, 2019. Entitled “Kamusta Ka? Tara Usap Tayo,” the hotline is part of the Philippine government’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which includes suicide intervention, prevention, and response strategies. Available 24/7, the hotline can be reached by calling 0917 899 8727 or 989 8727 (USAP).

4. Free Counseling for Those Affected by COVID-19

Notably, the University of the Philippines Diliman Psychosocial Services (UPD PsycServe) is temporarily offering free counseling or “tele-psychotherapy” sessions for people affected by the pandemic. These include front liners (e.g. health care workers, service providers), COVID-19 patients (confirmed and probable cases), relatives of front liners and patients, and basically anyone who is affected or feeling distressed because of the current pandemic.

To avail of their free counseling, UPD PsycServe may be reached by sending a message to 0906 374 3466 or 0916 757 3157. Callers will be asked for their name and particular concern.

Caring for People’s Mental Health

Indeed, it is good to see more programs and initiatives concerning mental health in the Philippines. However, all of us should be doing our part, too. Most Filipinos are usually scared or ashamed to talk about mental problems, for fear of stigma and ridicule. As a result, they end up keeping their conditions to themselves, resulting in more negative consequences.

To break the stigma, it’s time that we learn more about mental health, to care for ourselves as well as others’ well-being. Below are some practical tips on how we can express care and compassion for others, especially those who are experiencing mental health problems:

1. Listen and offer undivided attention.

Oftentimes, people just need a listening ear as they talk about their worries, fears, and concerns. Set aside time for a heart-to-heart talk, in someplace quiet and relaxing, so that you can truly focus on listening to the other person’s problems.

2. Be understanding, not judgemental.

As much as possible, don’t interrupt the person as he or she speaks. Try to understand his or her thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Practice empathy; put yourself in the other person’s shoes. More importantly, do not be judgmental or critical. Remember that everyone has different beliefs and opinions, and it is usually better to remain silent and supportive.

3. Do something fun and creative.

Aside from heart-to-heart talks, consider engaging the person in a fun or creative activity. You could go biking, take a walk in the park, do some gardening, try a new recipe, or learn a new dance routine! Doing things together could be just what the person needs, to boost his or her spirits!  

4. Assist in getting professional help.

If you are unsure about how to help the other person, do not hesitate to seek a professional for help. There are licensed therapists, counselors, and other people who are much more knowledgeable and skilled in dealing with such matters. Of course, always express your love and care, and support the person every step of the way!  

As the entire country — and the world — continues to deal with the COVID-19, we should be aware of the pandemic’s effects on our mental health, and on the well-being of those around us, too. Let us take this opportunity to rise above the stigma, and fill our hearts with empathy, care and compassion, especially for those who need our understanding, love, and support.

We have to take care of ourselves holistically – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Take good care of yourself, because no one knows when this Covid nightmare will end. 

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