COVID-19 pandemic is affecting mental health

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 26, 2021 - 12:00am

Over a year of being locked down is not easy. But I love it that there is now a socially acceptable term for an idea I always had in mind: Social distancing.

As a senior journalist who no longer has to cover a beat, there is no drastic change for me. Technology has made it more convenient for me to cover via Zoom, FaceTime, and the simple e-mail and text messaging. I can work in my pajamas or shorts.

But it is a different life. One wakes up day after day not knowing what day of the week it is… my appointment calendar has been blank for more than a year. And I can’t do my daily FitBit steps at a mall.

The new shirts and pair of shoes I bought in 2019 have hardly been used. The shirts get worn when I go on Zoom. But I must check the Cole Hann for mold. I should have bought more boxer shorts because those are the ones that are so useful in a lockdown.

The lockdown shouldn’t affect me psychologically, but I think it does. I don’t like feeling so helpless being a hostage of a virus that can only be seen through an electron microscope. I hate to imagine how the more sociable folks may be feeling with their movements severely restricted.

The fear of the pandemic is getting close to home. One year after, we now know people who have caught the virus or died because of it. Some of those are close relatives or friends. Many of us have attended those memorial services on Zoom.

No, Mr. Duterte, it is not “maliit na bagay.” It may seem small to you, so protected in your cocoon. But for the over 100 million Filipinos you are responsible for, it is a big deal.

It isn’t just us. The year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic, billions of lives around the world have been upended. Experts have warned of a mental health crisis amid an increase in reports of anxiety, depression and distress.

Not only that… the WHO has also warned of the pandemic’s long-term effect on mental health.

The most vulnerable individuals are healthcare professionals. From their stories, we can see how they are pushing their psychological resources to the absolute limit.

Healthcare workers are very often in hopeless situations. There are times they can’t help people and they’re watching people die.

And with the current upsurge in cases, patients die while waiting to be admitted as hospitals declare full occupancy. There was a report doctors had to intubate a patient under a tree at the Lung Center.

But you don’t have to be a healthcare worker to experience anxiety disorders and depression from the pandemic’s effect on people’s lives. Doctors are talking of relatives and friends of patients developing a COVID-19 induced PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder typically seen in battlefront soldiers.

The loss of jobs or inability to earn a living because of lockdowns can cause severe mental strain on heads of families, specially in the depressed areas. In many countries, suicides are on the rise.

Come to think of it, government officials in charge of dealing with COVID response are also under pressure. Very few are trained to deal with pandemics. Unfortunately, the few experienced and trained epidemiologists are on the sidelines as Duterte only trusts retired soldiers.

Still, let us commiserate with the officials who work tirelessly and get exposed to the virus. They are at the receiving end of criticisms daily and that also exacts a mental health toll... and their work is nowhere near a foreseeable end.

It must have distressed them, as it has distressed us, to see a rather disoriented President railing against the demand of drug companies to be protected from suits arising from the use of the experimental vaccines.

That’s supposed to be settled. Our Congress has passed and the President himself has signed a law, RA 11525, which gives some immunity to vaccine makers – “except arising from willful misconduct and gross negligence.”

So why was Duterte raining expletives on the drug makers for insisting they be protected from suits, to enjoy freedom from indemnification? Did Duterte forget he signed the law just a few weeks ago?

It is easy to wonder what was Duterte’s state of mind when he signed that law. Were there some loose screws up there when he attacked what he signed? Was it a usual Duterte Monday night drama or was he having a mental lapse on national television?

At his and our age, it is understandable to forget dates and names. But forgetting you signed a law with the most important content of which you are now saying you totally dislike?...He seemed very sure of himself too while denouncing the waiver.

Worse, the same Palace officials who drafted that law and convinced him to sign it just sat there and did nothing. As one journalist puts it, no one had the balls to scribble a note with, “Stop, you signed that law!” and shove it under Duterte’s nose.

Maybe Duterte was just having his usual televised tantrum. Harry Roque will just clean everything up in the morning with the usual contortions of the truth. Maybe like us, Duterte’s mental health has been affected by the pandemic.

Scary to think he might have had a mental lapse. Good thing we don’t have a nuclear football to worry about the way they did with Trump. It seems Duque is the least of our problems. Duterte is.

The vaccine makers are well within their rights to seek a clarification if the Duterte rant changes everything. But if a law can be changed on a whim, there goes the credibility of this government and the country.

Investors will withhold capital we need as they wait out Duterte’s term. No wonder we are where we are today. Duterte is really to blame.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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