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The Other Pandemic: What is it and How do we Deal with it?

Updated: May 2, 2023

For this month on The Insight Story, our Program Manager on Mental Health, Jomar Hulleza, shares a very important piece about “The Other Pandemic”.

The COVID Pandemic has taken its toll in every country ranging from the economy up to the well-being of individuals. Many countries started to work on the vaccine of this virus and fortunately, there are now vaccines being administered in every country with the hope that this pandemic will soon end. Here in the Philippines, the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on the lives of many Filipinos. People lost their jobs, companies closed, students and teachers were forced to have their classes online despite the lack of resources. There is no doubt everyone struggled a lot as the number of COVID cases kept on increasing every day. And behind these unwanted circumstances, there is a darker part to the pandemic which may be unnoticed.

Suicide is an alarming public health issue. Every year, thousands of people attempt suicide for various reasons. And for every person who takes their own life, a huge impact on the community, family, and the people left behind remains. In this issue, we have to be informed that people who are at risk are those who are suffering from mental health illnesses (depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, etc.). Moreover, suicidal behavior can also manifest in people who are experiencing a strong sense of isolation, people who belong to minority groups and are facing strong discrimination, people who are experiencing strong hopelessness. And most of the time, suicidal behavior is a sign that the person is eagerly crying for help.

Here in the Philippines, the recent data of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the number of deaths related to self-harm has greatly increased about a quarter last 2020. With a total number of 3,529 suicide-related cases, this is 26% higher as compared to the 2,808 suicide cases last 2019. The figures of 2020 suicide case is the highest record of the Philippines in the past 14 years making it the 27th leading cause of death in 2020 from 31st last 2019. Moreover, based on the study conducted by Frances Prescilla Cuevas of the National Mental Health Program there are at least 1,145,871 Filipinos suffering from a depressive disorder.

Knowing that COVID-19 is an easily transmissible and harmful virus, the steps in controlling the spread of the virus may be a contributor in the spike in number of suicide cases last year. According to a study, social isolation may increase the risk of recurrences of episodes of mental disorders and objective social isolation and subjective feelings of loneliness are associated with a higher risk of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. And from that, we can somehow say that longer lockdown and longer community quarantine may play a role in the increase of suicide rate in the Philippines. Moreover, many experts believe that mental health problems and concerns will be the next pandemic after this crisis in COVID-19. This is because the pandemic has affected the totality of every individual such as their career goals, the way they interact with the people around them, the dynamics in their family, their workplace, and their economic stability.

Maintaining a Positive Mental Health

That is why, it is important that despite the crisis we are facing, we should strive to maintain good mental health hygiene during this COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is normal for us to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during this COVID-19 pandemic, but learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you and the people around you more resilient. Here are some of the things that you should consider doing in order to have positive mental health:

1. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to stories related to COVID-19

It is a good thing to keep ourselves updated on the things that are happening around us especially in these trying times. However, constant news about the pandemic can sometimes be upsetting and may bring more stress to us. Consider limiting the exposure to news and try to focus on the things that you enjoy doing. Create a routine or set a time and period on when you are going to check the news in order to lessen your worries while keeping updated with the news.

2. Keep connected to your friends and love ones

Due to the extended lockdowns and community quarantines, being physically present with your friends and other relatives is quite hard to do. Staying connected with them online is one thing to keep your mind bonded with them. Moreover, you may also talk to them if you feel overwhelmed and stressed; emotional outlet is a good thing to take care of our mental health.

3. Create a routine that you will follow

The pandemic has indeed disrupted our daily routines so establishing a new routine and re-organizing ourselves to this “new normal” will help us cope with our current situation. Establishing a new routine helps us to have a structure in our daily activities so that we can feel that we are more in control of everything. Having a routine also helps us achieve a sense of accomplishment on the tasks that we have done, and helps us create a positive level of stress.

4. Do the things that you enjoy and something you are good at

Lockdowns and community quarantine made us stay in our house 24/7 so it is better to give at least some time to do the things that you love. Research suggests that engaging yourself in the things you love doing such as hobbies is associated with lower stress level and higher sense of psychological functioning.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Aside from enhancing your immunity, eating a well-balanced diet, having a proper sleep, and daily exercise can help you in maintaining a positive mental health. Moreover, it is also helpful to enjoy a short time under the sun every morning (observing proper protocols) as this is a good source of vitamin D and can also uplift your mood.

6. Consult your doctor

Our current situation in this pandemic can bring so many negative thoughts and emotions so when you feel like you are going overboard, the best option will always be to seek professional help.

Over the course of our life, some of us may have experienced mental health concerns and have had suicidal thought. But we have to remember that mental health problems are common and help is available for everyone. No matter how much pain you are experiencing or how hard you are struggling, there are people who will want to help and support you. So go ahead, approach, and talk to someone who is willing to listen to your struggles and be there for you. Remember that help is everywhere and the life you will be saving will be yours.

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