Suddenly, many people have been thrust in varying degrees of grief and paralyzing fear, and this will continue after the lockdown
One week into the quarantine, a neighbor related to us the ordeal his 63-year-old friend has had to regularly endure because of the lockdown. The friend has end-stage kidneys and needs to undergo dialysis. He has no car and, since no public transportation is available, he has to walk one and a half hours, two to three times a week, under the sweltering summer sun, to get to the nearest dialysis center.
A couple of days later, another neighbor asked me what to do after she felt a mass on her left breast that’s about the size of a corn kernel. I advised her to consult with a female surgeon who has a clinic in a hospital nearby. She called the hospital to set an appointment, only to be told no doctor has been holding clinics since the lockdown started. What if her mass is cancerous and this lockdown lasts several months? It could be in a more advanced stage by the time she sees a doctor. With medical clinics closed, when will patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension be able to visit their doctor for a follow-up?
When I went to the drugstore nearest our house to buy maintenance medications for my hypertension, the saleslady told me my meds are out of stock. She said restrictions on vehicular movements have resulted in delays in the production and delivery of drugs. Fortunately, I still have enough medicines to last a couple of weeks. What If I haven’t?
At another time, a patient emailed me asking for a prescription for sleeping pills. He said he has been unable to sleep wondering whether he still has a job when this ECQ is over.
The foregoing anecdotes illustrate some of the unintended adverse effects brought about by the restrictions on movement authorities imposed throughout the country to contain the virus. Most of these collateral damages are temporary and do not have long-term effects. With the lifting of ECQ and MECQ, public transportation will become available. Production and delivery of goods and services, even non-essential ones, will resume, and backlogs will get filled. But the effect of this lockdown on our mental health is something else.
Effects of lockdown on mental health
Both ECQ and GCQ have traumatized our psyche in varying ways and degrees, but practically everyone has experienced bouts of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. It doesn’t help that mass and social media bombard us daily with Covid-19 news, some true but mostly false or fake as if nothing else is happening in the world.
What’s further disconcerting is that the strain on our psyche will not abate when GCQ gives way to the “new normal,” because under the “new normal” our movement will remain restricted and regulated. It is also uncertain how long the “new normal” will last. Most say until a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available, which can be one to two years at least.
The “new normal” is not normal
Wearing a face mask, social distancing, and other restrictions that will continue even after GCQ is lifted are not normal. They will never be normal. We, humans, are social animals. We thrive when we mingle freely. Social isolation, living alone, and loneliness, imposed by these restrictions predispose us to premature death. In this “new normal,” no thanks to advice like assuming everyone as Covid-positive, we will continue to distrust others. Our paranoia will force us to maintain a heightened sense of alertness. Our adrenaline levels will persistently be elevated, which will make us easily tired and exhausted. In time, even if we keep our sanity, our body will break down, our organs will malfunction and our immune system will weaken.
What you can do to keep your sanity
Our time under ECQ and GCQ has been tough on us mentally, and the assault on our psyche will persist under the “new normal.” So, how can you help yourself while waiting for the real normal? Here are some suggestions:
• Keep yourself occupied
• Keep in touch with your relatives and friends
• Remain informed, but make sure your sources are reliable.
• If things go bad, seek help. The Philippine Mental Health Association (PMHA) has established a virtual mental health support facility. Email email@example.com or contact 09175652036, 89214957, or 89214959). The National Center for Mental Health also has “crisis hotline responders” who can provide psychological first aid and suicide first aid for those in distress 24/7. Contact 79898727 or 09178998727.