Unilab, INQUIRER.net webinar stresses on promoting mental health amidst prolonged quarantine  | Inquirer Lifestyle

Unilab, INQUIRER.net webinar stresses on promoting mental health amidst prolonged quarantine 

“Kumusta Ka? A Talk on Mental Health and How to Cope,” the latest webinar collaboration between Unilab and INQUIRER.net, zeroed in on staying mentally fit during the pandemic and amidst the ongoing quarantine measures in the country, which has taken its toll on Filipinos, old and young alike.  Mental health advocate, Gretchen Ho, moderated the one-hour discussion.

According to the webinar’s resource speaker—Dr. Edgardo Tolentino Jr., mental well-being is just as important as physical well-being in the assessment of people’s overall health. Mental health is defined as “a positive sense of well-being; individual resources including self-esteem, optimism, sense of mastery and coherence, the ability to initiate, develop and sustain mutually satisfying personal relationships, and the ability to cope with adversity (resilience).”

Edgardo Juan L. Tolentino, Jr., MD, FPPA Member, Technical Working Group for the IRR of RA 11036 (the Mental Health Act) and in the strategic plan of the Philippine Council for Mental Health Past President, Philippine Psychiatric Association

Mental illness, on the other hand, is a disturbance in thinking, mood, or behavior. This is associated with distress and/or functional impairment with symptoms varying from mild to severe. It refers to diagnosable conditions such as mood disorders (depression), anxiety disorders (PTSD, social phobia), psychotic disorders (Schizophrenia), etc. 

The level of mental illness progresses when not addressed immediately and properly. It starts from a simple stress to distress, and further to being a disorder and impairment when it already requires professional help or pharmacological and psycho-social intervention. 

“When we go from normal to stress, we should arrest the condition so we won’t go into distress. We should emphasize however that anxiety from depression is a normal human emotion.  We all go through it,” says Tolentino. He further cited that it is so common that in a general community, 50 percent of those who have depression also have anxiety.

Dr. Tolentino, a mental health expert, is a past president of the Philippine Psychiatric Association and member of the Technical Working Group for the IRR (Implementing Rules & Regulations) of Republic Act No. 11036 or the Mental Health Act. He also belongs to the strategic planning group of the Philippine Council for Mental Health.

Under the Mental Health Act, all workplaces, schools and communities should have policies and programs for mental health. According to him, “It is a rights-based law that protects the rights of people or services users. It is for everybody”. 

During the ongoing pandemic and prolonged quarantine in the country, there is an increasing concern over mental health. Based on the SWS National Mobile Phone Survey on Filipino Stress due to Covid-19, more than half of respondents experienced “great stress” (55% in May and 51% in July) and over one-third of them experienced “much stress” (34% in May and 35% in July).

Tolentino cited another survey result about mental health condition in the Philippines (Psychological Impact of Covid-19 pandemic in the Philippines) released on August 24, 2020 but conducted during the early parts of the quarantine. It showed that 28.8% of respondents were  considered to have mild to extremely severe depressive symptoms; 38.4% reported mild to extremely severe anxiety symptoms; and 39.8% reported mild to extremely severe stress signals. 

  It was also presented that those who were greatly impacted psychologically during the pandemic in the Philippines are: female, young, single, students, recently imposed quarantine, has prolonged homestay, reported poor health status, with unnecessary worry or concern for family members, and experiencing discrimination.

“These are normal adjustment issues during a crisis particularly since we are going through the longest quarantine in the world. Some people recover from these emotional problems once the pandemic threat passes while other people have enduring emotional reactions,” says Tolentino. 

  There are factors that influence mental health such as genetics, lifestyle (smoking, alcohol use, eating habits), environmental (living conditions), economic/social (job loss, support systems) and access to service (mental health care, crisis lines).

He said it is important to keep track of the warning signs and symptoms in order to seek help. These are sleep or appetite changes, mood changes, social withdrawal, increased sensitivity, apathy, feeling disconnected, illogical thinking, nervousness, and other unusual behavior.

So when is it time to consider seeking professional help? Tolentino replies: if stress persists for longer than two to three weeks, if symptoms are excessive and causing distress; and if it interferes with the individual’s functions (occupational, social and personal). “It’s okay not to feel okay and if you’re not feeling okay, it’s okay to seek help,” he said.

Tolentino also emphasized the importance of self-care: feel free to feel your feelings, intentionally employ coping strategies, perform regular check-ins with yourself, take breaks from news and social media, be fortified by remembering the importance and meaning of work. In managing stress, he said, think of the acronym CRUMBS (Connections, Routine, Understanding, Mindfulness, Boundaries and Self-Care). 

  “This is a time for kindness, check on each other especially the most vulnerable such as the older adults, kids and those with history of psychological or mental disorder. We need to bring down the mental health curve, not only to flatten the Covid-19 curve,” he said. 

The pandemic has also made it more challenging for the children and youth who have been subjected to limited movements/freedom and have to adjust to online classes. The latter has also exposed them to digital gadgets that also affect their lifestyle. Tolentino cited that the blue light emitted by cellphones and other gadgets stimulate melatonin in the brain and extended use alters their sense of day and night, thus disrupting sleep patterns.

  He advises parents to “devote time for each child.  They have different interests and needs.  If possible, connect them with their friends; give them a little slack during these difficult times.” He added that parents who are working from home should also set boundaries for themselves by defining work time and family time.

   “This is a unique time in our lives. Let’s be kind to one another. Mental health is important at every stage of life, but even more during adverse life events such as this pandemic. We need to be mindful of strengthening our protective factors and managing our stressors. It starts with self-care, so we can care for others as well,” said Tolentino. 

The Alagang Unilab webinar series is organized by Unilab, Inc., the country’s leading pharmaceutical and healthcare company, to help Filipinos find ways to be healthier physically, emotionally, and mentally.