Expert says mental health issues caused by Covid-19 will take longer to overcome
THE pandemic is slowly waning, but mental health issues among Filipinos are said to be on the rise and may possibly last even longer than the infection. Some mental health issues like depression, anxiety, even suicide have increased globally, and some data mentioned that 20% of Covid-19 survivors experienced mental health issues within three months. following infection, likely due to stress, the impact of lockdowns and the fear that even their loved ones will test positive for the dreaded disease.
Even healthcare workers and frontline workers have suffered, primarily from the idea that they contract the disease and pass it on to family or loved ones.
The impact of Covid-19 on mental health
The University of the Philippines, in partnership with the UP Manila NIH National Telehealth Center and in cooperation with the UP Philippine General Hospital, again hosted its weekly “Stop Covid Deaths” webinar series, with the latest episode titled “The Rising Tide: Mental Health Outcomes of the Pandemic.
Dr. Evangeline dela Fuente, who heads the department of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at UP College of Medicine, said the pandemic has wreaked havoc around the world, where it has claimed many lives and disrupted global economies of many unprecedented ways. Many mobility restrictions, on the other hand, have affected the physical movements and social interactions that are integral to promoting and maintaining mental health.
How has Covid-19 changed people’s lives? An American study indicated that the disease led to a decrease in the number of steps that most people took, from 10,000 to only 4,600, an increase of 25 to 30 minutes of sleep per night, socializing time decreased by more than half to less than 30 minutes, screen time doubled to more than five hours a day and increased risk of clinical depression ranging from 46% to 61%, up to 90%. “Without a doubt, the pandemic has been really stressful for all of us,” said Dr dela Fuente.
She said people with chronic stress can get chronic stress, which is dangerous, she said, a situation that can lead to high blood pressure, reduced fertility, weakened immune system, increased heart or stomach problems. Healthcare workers were also affected by chronic stress that affected their quality of life and mental health. She cited a local study in 2020 that showed the majority of healthcare workers were psychologically affected, where 70.74% had symptoms of anxiety and 50.97% had symptoms of depression.
“According to a study, many causes of anxiety among healthcare workers are fear of being infected, of infecting others without knowing it, concerns for the well-being of loved ones, uncertainty about the support and dissatisfaction with health information.”
So what do we want to do now? Dr. dela Fuente highlighted becoming resilient, or essentially the ability to recover or adapt to misfortune or change, where the recommendation was “to be like a bamboo; bend but don’t break. “There are resilience trainings that can change the brain and improve resilience.”
There should also be enough sleep to improve physical health, around seven to eight hours a day, for the body to recuperate and heal from daily stress, she said. It is also necessary to exercise to improve physical health and to always practice mindfulness or to be in tune with the present and not dwell on the past.
Dr. dela Fuente also explained that part of resilience is being able to express how you feel. “If there is something distressing, create a narrative in your mind and write it down or better yet, share it with someone we trust. Also, we can avoid being overwhelmed or carried away by our emotions if we have good emotional regulation.Being grateful also improves resilience, where expressing gratitude can have lasting effects and improve psychological well-being.
She also had this kind of checklist for when to seek help: if coping becomes a struggle, if stress interferes with activities for several days, when drugs or alcohol are already abused, when there is has thoughts of harming themselves or others, and if they are already treated but experience new or worsening symptoms.
Addressing student well-being
For Dr. Blesile Suzette Mantaring, Director of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) at UP Manila (UPM), the school has come up with programs to help improve the welfare of UP Manila students. Even before the pandemic, Dr. Mantaring said that UP Manila already had its Psychosocial Wellbeing Network (PSWN) which helps meet the emotional needs of students.
“Before the pandemic, we were already seeing an increase in mental health issues. With the network, he has helped expand the reach of mental health care. PSWN is a collaboration between seven to nine UPM colleges to foster a healthy and responsive campus climate. There is one representative from each college, OSA guidance counselors, student council representatives, and one from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine.
Dr Mantaring also said that they use a World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed tiered public health approach where they promote mental health among students, prevent at-risk students from developing mental health, as well as interventions to treat mental illness.
At the start of an academic year, she said all students should undergo an annual physical exam and mental health assessment as a requirement before enrolment. There are also individual counseling services for students with mental health issues provided via platforms such as email, the LiftUp counseling mobile app, via audio or video calls, or mobile services via calls or text messages.
The OSA also launched an online mental health survey that began in 2020 to assess the emotional state and resilience of students using the “DASS21” or Depression, Anxiety and Disorder Scale. scale to measure emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as Brief Resilience Scale to measure students’ ability to bounce back and recover from stress. “Data collected from these can be viewed by student relations officers at each college.”
She said these programs were designed to ensure student well-being. “The online surveys and assessments will help our office develop programs and mechanisms to meet all of the health needs of not just students who have mental health issues, but all of our students,” Dr. Mantaring concluded. .