COVID came in as a surprise, crippling everything in its path – the healthcare system, the economy, giants in the business, and has even made its way into the very core of human psychology. The COVID pandemic threatened the masses into the confines of their homes – for days, months, and counting. To date, it has wiped out 650 thousand people and afflicted 16 million around the world.
Mental health in trying times
An article by the World Health Organization revealed that there is an increase in symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. In a study conducted in Ethiopia in April 2020, a three-fold increase was seen in the prevalence of symptoms of depression compared to estimates from Ethiopia before the epidemic. During the height of the pandemic, health workers in China have reported depression (50%), anxiety (45%), and insomnia (34%). In Canada, 47% of healthcare workers sought psychological support.
“The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning. Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment,” states Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, in an article by WHO.
Moreover, the agency identified specific population groups that are at risk for COVID-related psychological distress. This population includes frontline healthcare workers, children, adolescents, women, older persons, and people living with pre-existent mental health conditions.
“It is now crystal clear that mental health needs must be treated as a core element of our response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a collective responsibility of governments and civil society, with the support of the whole United Nations System. A failure to take people’s emotional well-being seriously will lead to long-term social and economic costs to society,” Dr Ghebreyesus reveals.
Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO, agrees with Dr Ghebreyesus. Kestel states that the reorganization of mental health services is needed in a global scale and serves as an opportunity to build a mental health system for the future.
“This means developing and funding national plans that shift care away from institutions to community services, ensuring coverage for mental health conditions in health insurance packages and building the human resource capacity to deliver quality mental health and social care in the community,” states Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO.
Mental health in the locality
In the locality, efforts are done to mitigate the psychological effects of COVID. Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas lauded the Technical Working Group (TWG) on Mental Wellbeing and Resilience last June 2020 for initiating “Dagyaw: Activation of Multiple Creative Hubs in the City of Iloilo for Mental Health Wellbeing and Resilience.
In a social media post by the Iloilo City Government, it defined ‘Dagyaw’ as a Hiligaynon term for communal work. It is associated with ‘mutual sharing and help that reflects the symbiotic relationship between members of a group’.
Moreover, the movement highlights ‘Ginhawa’, a breathing prayer of sort that was initiated during a flag ceremony and has been a regular practice every start of meetings at the City Hall. According to Prof Jessica Bercilla of TWG, the practice is vital since breathing is a ‘essential life process that nourishes the being through its physiological and psychological co-benefits which are much needed especially in the time of COVID’.
The practice enumerates the following benefits:
- Develop a culture of ginhawa (to breathe);
- Manage pent-up emotions arising from COVID 19 and other stressors;
- Reclaim capacity to take control of their lives;
- Regain capacity to belong and build or enhance the sense of community;
- Facilitate and enable learning among people.
Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas also shared his thoughts on mental wellness:
“It is our responsibility and obligation to make sure that our children, who have bigger future, will not waste their life because of problems on mental health. We really need to help one another. We all owe it to our community to make sure that our children will live a full life like all of us.
We will try to do as much as possible. And that is the reason why the city government is embarking on this program. We have been planning because we have seen that there is really a problem. There are those who think differently. And that is the reason why we should all try to do something about this.”