FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - June 4, 2020 - 12:00am

Being quarantined for long periods triggers depression and loneliness, and for some, suicidal thoughts. No wonder there’s a big rush for beaches and parks and coffeeshops once the stay-at-home order is lifted. Oh, the joy of being out in the open, to breathe fresh air once more, to ride a bike, to drive one’s car to anywhere one had ached to visit. But, the quarantine restriction is still on, and the danger of deteriorating mental health cannot be ignored.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippine Mental Health Association (PMHA) online support services are providing free mental health counseling for those affected by COVID-19. PMHA is a non-government organization dedicated to the promotion of mental health services and prevention of mental health disorders.

Of invaluable help is my-CORD organization, which I wrote about in a previous column, that provides Resiliency and Wellness Checkpoint and “takes charge of people’s resiliency and mental health during times of chaos and crisis,” according to Majella Tumangan-Villaroman, international health management strategist.

Requested if PMHA was able to capture general statistics on mental health concern as depression, anxiety or suicide, Dr. Carolina Uno-Rayco, executive director of PMHA, pulled together a preliminary report to help people understand the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Filipinos. She indicated that the preliminary statistics provide a general profile of individuals who sought assistance from the PMHA Online Support Services. However, it does not reflect an actual prevalence of mental health concerns across the country.

Lorraine Jessica Baclig, a clinical psychologist from PMHA gathered the preliminary mental health data from the start of COVID-19. This accounts for the highest reported initial individual concern, being anxiety (34 percent), where some are pre-diagnosed with anxiety disorder (25 percent), or mixed anxiety with depression (18 percent) as the highest, followed by sleep impairment (10 percent), and depressive symptoms (10 percent), also accounts for individuals with pre-condition on depression (15 percent) and bipolar disorder (15 percent). Most of the clients come from the Metro Manila area and are between the ages of 21-30 years old.

Most concerning from the PMHA initial data is that there is approximately 3 percent suicidal ideation, which is generally associated with depression. Suicidal ideation is also known as suicidal thoughts, as thinking about, considering, or planning suicide. Lorraine Baclig and Maria Emichelle Noscal, both frontline clinical psychologists at PMHA cite some examples of situations that COVID-19 trigger suicidal thoughts: “When will the pandemic end?” “Will I be the next one to be infected?” “Will my family be safe?” “Will I die from this virus?”

Apart from the above, there are many other factors that aggravate their worries such as losing one’s job during the quarantine, the problem of hunger and providing for basic needs due to loss of income during the pandemic.”

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I asked Dr. Sally Bongalonta, a clinical psychologist who is executive director of VIVIFY, an NGO-partner of my-CORD Corp., what churches and civic organizations can do to help alleviate the stress suffered by families and individuals during this unsettling pandemic period.

“Mature understanding of one’s faith is needed to look at the COVID-19 pandemic in a positive perspective. Needed is faith, the assurance that even though unseen, what was promised will be fulfilled. What one expects in faith, he will receive, no iota of doubt. It becomes real that one can feel it,” she said.

Sally, a past assistant director at the Philippine Women’s University Institute of Family Life and Children Studies, emphasized the importance of the family “in thinking of smart ways to start positive attitudes while on quarantine. In isolation, parents take the opportunity to talk about God, reflect on his goodness to man, and together pray for grace to remain thankful in the midst of uncertainties, and never to doubt God’s love.”

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My-CORD was established in 2017 as an international Employee Assistance Program provider, partnering with client companies in providing their employees work-related and mental health counseling services.

The birth of my-CORD was traumatic. On Dec. 7, 1933, at 5:33 p.m., a black man entered the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) train bound from New York City to Long Island. Just as the LIRR pulled into the Merillon Station in Long Island, the man started shooting systematically, first toward his left then right, using a 9MM semi-automatic hand pistol with black talon bullets, injuring 19 passengers and killing six others. One of those killed was Marita Tumangan, a Filipina lawyer who had recently passed the New York State bar exam with flying colors. She was on her way back home to Westbury, Long Island where she lived for less than a year.

The news of Marita’s death was too hard to bear for her sister, Majella, who was working in Los Angeles, CA. That same night, she boarded the midnight flight from Los Angeles to New York to claim Marita’s body, which took time to be released from a funeral home, as it involved an active crime investigation. It was revealed that the man who killed her sister was mentally ill, came from a well-off family in Jamaica and was a scholar at Adelphi University where he was experiencing racial discrimination. This may have triggered his stress and mental illness, which resulted to his rage and anger with white folks, angry at “Uncle Tom” blacks, angry at Asians because they took the jobs. His whole story spelled “Black Rage.”

With the intervention of her father, Atty. Edgardo Tumangan, who was the secretary of the Philippine Senate when the incident happened, the Philippine embassy in New York assisted Majella with all the travel arrangements, and she was able to bring back her sister’s body to the Philippines.

Majella told me, “I was so much in pain and went through a period of post-traumatic stress, making it difficult for me to find myself again for a period of time. My life had changed.”
 In her quest to understand what truly happened, she brought her story to United States Senators Pete Dominici and Paul Wellstone, the proponents of the mental health parity law. In six months, Congress passed the law to ensure equal coverage of mental health conditions and substance use disorders in insurance plans.

Since then and until now, Majella’s work takes her all over the USA, Europe and Asia, working with the International Labor Organization, World Health Organization and different governments advancing mental health policies, creating employee assistance programs for workplaces employees.

Upon her return to the Philippines, she put up my-CORD Corp., an international Employee Assistance Program provider, partnering with client companies in providing their employees work-related and mental health counseling services.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, my-CORD is bringing a digital platform that makes mental health and resiliency tools accessible to all Filipinos, as long as they can connect to the internet, through their laptop or mobile app. Its Resilience and Wellness Checkpoint is scientifically developed to better quantify and address resiliency challenges brought on by COVID-19 such as behavioral-oriented factors – stress, depression, sleep, anxiety – and provide more guidance and resources on how to improve resiliency.

“This life journey builds from a tragedy and has continued to light up the fire from within for mental health and well-being,” Majella said.

Majella said there are important trends that impact my-CORD clients. These are increased globalization of business, more crises and trauma arising, and the greater recognition of the impact of behavioral care in establishing positive and profitable organizations. Toward this end, Majella collaborates with David Levine, CEO, Global Crisis Response from the US to bring a new enhanced service to the Philippines in support of my-CORD’s clients and employees’ Resiliency and Mental Well-being.

For interested parties, here are the contact numbers: my-CORD-Smart +63 929 1975876; Globe (0956) 2993548; appts by website For PMHA online support – +632-9214958.

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