The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a renewed interest in the subject of mental health, as many people had been affected by varying degrees. Worrying about getting infected, the future of the kids, the loss of income, and the like have eaten up many people to cause depression and anxiety. Even medical doctors were not spared, as they see emergency cases and deaths every day. Everybody was mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and physically exhausted. Even the safety protocols became exhausting for a while. After the wave of vaccinations against the novel coronavirus, we are now trying to live with the virus in the new normal. However, the opening of businesses, tourism, and schools as well as traffic jams are not without their effects on the mind. These are also sparking new triggers to mental health in the new normal. How can we deal with these simultaneous new situations happening while still worrying about COVID-19? How can we still have a fit mind?
A Healthy Body and a Fit Mind Go Together
In a survey, it was discovered that Filipinos became more health-conscious during the pandemic. Either for lack of anything else to do during the lockdowns or for concern about their well-being amidst the health crisis, people reportedly have been eating better by making healthier food choices.
But a healthy body is not enough. Although it is not widely accepted yet, mental health issues are also sicknesses that can affect the body if left untreated.
Last June 2022, just as the frenzy for the national elections simmered, Bacolod City was shocked by the news of a young male call center agent who attempted to jump from their office building in Brgy. Mandalagan. The victim suffered from depression ever since he lost his job at the start of the pandemic. Thankfully, his attempt was foiled by the heroic act of a member of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)-Special Rescue Force. His case is not rare, though he was the one that became sensational because of his dramatic rescue.
According to Dr. Charibel Escandilor, MD, DPBP, a Doctor of Psychiatry based in Bacolod City, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in anxiety and depression cases worldwide. And those are just the reported and documented ones.
Triggers during the pandemic included isolation, constraints on work or school, fear of infection, grief associated with the loss of a loved one, or estrangement due to distance, she said.
Moreover, the different family members were affected—from children, to adults, to the elderly. Many young people felt overwhelmed and suffered FOMO when they couldn’t see their peers. The working class worried about their jobs or businesses, as many lost their sources of income. Meanwhile, the elderly found that their routines had been disrupted, like going to church, seeing friends, indulging in their hobbies, and doing outdoor exercises (like walking or zumba). Their contemporaries were also dying, which added to the emotional burden.
Symptoms were mostly “depressive and anxious” in nature, Dr. Escandilor added. “Only time will tell if rates will decrease. I don’t know if people have just been more aware of mental health services but clinic schedules don’t seem to let up. There are just more and more patients.”
Then Came the New Normal
In the weeks leading to the May national elections, people seemed to have forgotten about the pandemic. The excitement of having new leaders as well as the hostility between opposing candidates drowned out the pandemic issue as well as the fear that came with it.
Then DepEd announced that face-to-face (F2F classes) will resume. Parents scrambled for back-to-school preparations as well as worried for their children’s safety. Teachers who stressed so much about online schooling with limited internet connection as well brownouts as well as working on modules during the pandemic now have to prepare their classrooms and teaching materials.
Meanwhile, those who had been cooped up by staying at home felt overwhelmed with how fast things are changing. Those who spent their senior high online and doing performance tasks at home find it hard to cope with the demands of OJT when they report to an actual office.
Mental health experts hypothesized that people’s coping flexibility has changed so much because of the anxiety and depression that they experienced during the pandemic. While still struggling with the effects on the mind and the body caused by the issues surrounding the pandemic, they are suddenly plunged with new concerns. It is no wonder that people are having a hard time coming to terms with the new situation, as the changes would make it seem overwhelming to somebody who is having a mental breakdown.
Dr. Escandilor mentioned that although she hasn’t tracked how many patients she had been receiving. However, “since I’ve always been by appointment, I see a steady number of patients daily.”
Possible Solutions to Mental Health Triggers
Each person has a different trigger or triggers as well as coping responses. The appearance of a spider in the bedroom can scare a person with arachnophobia into a panic attack. In another light, an abusive person may seem caring to her friends and kind to complete strangers, but to her victim of emotional abuse, she can trigger anxiety.
It is still considered taboo to talk about mental health in many sectors, with some people hurling scathing remarks at people who advocate for mental health. There is a Filipino Christian woman whose passion is mental health awareness and last year, she got attacked online for pointing out that mental illness should be treated like any other sickness. She was ostracized for lacking in faith or not having faith at all, which is probably the reason why there are still so many people who would rather keep their illness hidden instead of seeking help. The sad thing is if these people clam up and finally give up on life because they feel that nobody can understand their situation.
Normalize Seeking Professional Help for Mental Health
When people feel something in their bodies, they feel it is natural to seek a doctor’s opinion. They go see a doctor and submit for a checkup. They are also willing to take medicines as well as vitamin supplements for the body to feel better.
But what many people can’t understand is that the same is true with the mind. Sometimes, mental faculties get sick and a doctor trained in psychiatry can check and make recommendations.
There are several chemicals workinh in the brain and when there is an imbalance, medicines can help bring them in check. Only a licensed psychiatrist can give prescriptions for these drugs.
“Any disorder with moderate to severe symptoms will have functionality problems, like mood changes that affect relationships, loss of motivation that can affect school or work,” Dr. Escandilor explains. “I can’t speak for the others, [but] I tend to give a combination of talk therapy and medicines since by the time [patients] get to me, symptoms are already moderate to severe or they’ve had counseling from other doctors,” she adds.
Other Ways to Improve Mental Health in the New Normal
Just like nutrition plus taking prescription medicines and food supplements can help the body, there are also some things that can help improve mental health.
Counseling or Talking to Trusted Confidantes
Healing can also come with talking to a trusted confidante. It could be a friend, an elder in the church, or a family member. Those who believe in God find comfort in prayer — whether in their personal alone time or with a small group or accountability partner.
Just make sure that the person is really someone you can trust to keep your struggles in confidence. In the same way, you can also talk to a counselor or a psychiatrist.
Good Health and Nutrition
A body that is fed with good nutrition as well as food supplements and is worked out regularly will turn out to be healthy. The mental processes will follow suit. Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, are reportedly good for mental health.
Moreover, spending at least 30 minutes a day doing some physical activity as well as getting some sun helps elevate the mood.
The body and the mind heal themselves during sleep. Notice how cranky and even incoherent you are when you lack sleep? Sometimes, you even end up with a headache. Those are physical responses but what we don’t see is how the mind reacts when the body is sleep-deprived. It has already been established that sleep deprivation is detrimental to mental health.
But get a full night’s rest and you will feel refreshed and happy to tackle the day’s challenges.
Aromatherapy and relaxation techniques
When stress is too much, the mind tends to go haywire. There are many relaxation techniques available, such as body massage, yoga, or meditation. You may also find that some essential oil combinations used in aromatherapy have a calming effect and can help ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“When used aromatically, essential oils give excellent emotional support. The sense of smell is the human sense related to our emotions. This is because the olfactory nerves are located beside the amygdala and the limbic system, which is the center of human emotions. When you feel down, inhale a revitalizing scent for an instant “perk me up”, says Dr. Jamielynn Anne Cruz-Nalumen. She is a full-time Pathologist married to an Anesthesiologist. They have made it their life purpose to incorporate natural living and wellness into their practice.
With these options, find which one works best for you.
Avoid harmful substances
Smoking and drinking alcohol may make you feel good temporarily, but the effects are fleeting. Instead, they bring more health problems that can further affect your mental health. Stay on the healthy path to heal both your mind and body.
Changing Your Mindset
Dr. Lia Esteban, Ph.D. popularly known as The Happiness Doctor, recommends nourishing the mind. This involves changing limiting beliefs about one’s self. “It’s not toxic positivity,” she says, but creating new thoughts as a coping mechanism to everyday stress.
Panic attacks in unfamiliar situations may occur during stressful times. Dr. Escandilor recommends practicing belly breathing daily so that patients can use this by default when there’s a panic attack. “It will usually pass within 30 minutes or even sooner if [the patient] concentrates on breathing,” she explains.
Discover how to perform belly breathing in this video below:
Focus on finding solutions
The new normal is proving to be more challenging to many people, especially to parents who constantly worry about their children’s situation in school as well as the fear of contracting diseases. There are also many changes in our society, including a new president and local government officials. However, it is important to remember that problems and challenges are always part of life. We should focus more on finding solutions than dwelling on the problems.
Above all else, let us be kind to everyone. Extend a little bit of patience, as it goes a long way. Since we do not know how people have suffered in the last two years, let us at least be more understanding. Sometimes, it only takes a smile or a kind word to lift someone’s mood or even save someone from thoughts of self-harm.
*Dr. Charibel Escandilor, MD, DPBP, is a fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association. She teaches at the College of Medicine of the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod. Moreover, she volunteers her services at the Negros Occidental Rehabilitation Foundation, Inc. where she sees indigent patients with mental health problems. She holds accepts patients by appointment and holds consultations at the Villanueva Laboratory, No. 8 16th St. corner Lacson St., Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. For appointments, patients can call (034) 433-5277 or 433-3935.
Here are the numbers you need to take note of:
National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) Crisis Hotlines under the DOH.
- 1553 (nationwide and toll-free landline)
- 0966-351-4518 (Globe/TM)
- 0917-899-8727 (Globe/TM)
- 0908-639-2672 (Smart/Sun/TNT)