“Parang nasisiraan na sila ng bait . . . nagpapalimos na lang sa kalye.”—TV news report on some jobless people
In a previous article, I explained how different sports were apt metaphors for various aspects of life. This situation we are all in today is a striking example.
This pandemic is frequently referred to as a marathon (a long run needing sustained stamina), as opposed to a sprint (a short race using a burst of speed) because it is expected to be with us for a long time. To me, the more appropriate analogy is that it is a triathlon, the ultimate test of skill and stamina consisting of three grueling stages: swimming, biking and running.
The real-life version has its three equivalents. Like the sporting event, we are better prepared in some aspects, just as some athletes are better in running than in swimming or biking. The main difference between the two is that in real-life event, we have to contend with all three challenges simultaneously, not sequentially.
The first critical real-life aspect is the physical—how to win over the coronavirus itself, either by avoiding it successfully or by recovering from the illness in case we get infected. In real life, some individuals have a stronger immune system, have no underlying health conditions, or are not yet seniors, the most vulnerable age group.
The second real-life aspect is the economic challenge. In this, most of our countrymen are vulnerable. Nine out of 10 Filipinos belong to the lower economic classes (D and E) whose savings are minimal or nonexistent. Even a brief disruption in income becomes a crisis of survival for the family.
As of this writing, media is still full of reports that many households have not yet received the government’s promised cash assistance. Aside from government entities pointing at one another, a number of local officials are even under investigation for allegedly giving only half of the intended cash amount and pocketing the other half. The bottom line is that many breadwinners, plunged into desperation, have resorted to begging, intimidating and other extreme measures just to survive.
The last phase of the pandemic “triathlon” is hardly spoken or written about, because it is the least obvious. But because it can be just as traumatic as the disease itself or economic deprivation, it should not be ignored. I’m referring to the mental (psychological, emotional) issues caused by disorienting experiences during the pandemic.
The very first people who come to mind are those who have lost or will still lose loved ones to the virus. From the time a stricken family member is brought to the hospital to the time he/she dies, they cannot even be around to give care or comfort. The only time they see their loved one again is probably just before or after he/she is cremated. No embraces, no goodbyes, only mental and emotional anguish.
We have a family friend whose sister suffered an episode of a chronic illness, but because she had difficulty breathing, she was isolated and brought to a tent outside the hospital to be tested for new coronavirus disease (COVID-19). She died there, and the family never saw her again alive.
Since the start of the lockdown, I have received texts from former household employees, caddies, repairmen and other workers, some of whom I no longer remember, desperately asking for any kind of help because their families had nothing to eat.
Because I made a commitment not to refuse anyone who asked me for help as long as I could afford it, I was able to find ways to send every one of them some money to help tide them over. But when I think of the thousands more out there, I can’t help imagining how the plight of those who do not receive help can affect their mental state when they see their children missing meals.
From watching TV, I also realize the mental and emotional turmoil that front-liners (doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers) go through.
Under the radar
As I write this, I learn on TV that three doctors in Russia plunged from their hospital windows, with two dying and the third, recently confirmed positive for COVID-19, in critical condition. These cases are still under investigation, but mental issues due to stress are highly suspected.
Mental disturbances arising from the pandemic—anxiety, alienation, depression, insecurity and more serious problems such as panic syndrome and paranoia—are serious concerns that can manifest increasingly as the crisis endures. But most will probably be under the radar and will not be effectively treated. A business consulting group I am associated with has observed that when companies resume hiring or bringing back their employees to the workplace, one challenge is how to promote and maintain mental health to optimize productivity amid the pandemic and thereafter.
But what about those who will not even have jobs?
We were one of the last countries to recognize the importance of the mental well-being of their citizens when the Philippine government passed R.A. 11036, known as the Philippine Mental Health Act of 2017. The law calls for the provision of psychiatric, psychosocial and neurological services in all hospitals and basic mental health services in community settings. But as Dr. John Lally et. al. noted in an article in BJ Psych International welcoming the passage of the law, “Mental health care remains an under-
resourced and neglected aspect of health care in the Philippines.”The crisis has underscored the need for government to address not only the physical and economic well-being of its citizens, but just as importantly, to allocate sufficient long-term resources for their mental health. —CONTRIBUTED