The silent pandemic among healthcare workers

Published November 10, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Rikki Mathay



Alongside the COVID-19 pandemic is what could be very well coined as “the silent pandemic” or the issue that has finally made it to the surface especially during the worldwide lockdown — mental health. As COVID brought the world into a standstill at the beginning of 2020, cases of depression and suicide have been triggered among the population, from the youth whose once vibrant lives were put on hold, to even highly successful businessmen whose livelihoods were unexpectedly hit by the sudden plummet of the economy. In a series of free webinars I conducted at the height of the pandemic last year via my Facebook page “Working Mommah,” I have discussed this matter lengthily with psychiatrists, mental health advocates and parents who lost their children to depression. With the prolongation of the pandemic however, another pressing issue mental health advocates as myself need to attend to is tackling mental health issues of medical frontliners during the pandemic.

As doctors, nurses and other medical frontliners have been thrown into the pit, so to speak, of “exceptional stress, extreme workloads, difficult decisions, risks of becoming infected and spreading infection to families and communities, and witnessing deaths of patients” have taken a toll on their mental health, but being silent as it is, those who are suffering from these are often times unaware.

The Philippine World Health Organization Special Initiative for Mental Health has identified around 3.6 million Filipinos suffering from poor mental health. Dr. Beverly Ho, director of the Health Promotion Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH) says, “This means that you and me, all of us, have a role to play in improving the environment for all of us such that our behavior and how we react to situations will be more supportive and enabling.”

Thus, mental health practices need to be finally democratized now more than ever if we are to mitigate these mental health challenges for healthcare workers. As a councilor for  the Philippine Red Cross, I have organized and administered first aid and disaster trainings pre-pandemic, but I now call on the health sector under the guidance of the DOH, to initiate psychological first aid to those in distress.

The discussion need not only be democratized but more importantly, normalized with the eventual removal of stigma that has seemed to define issues of mental health stemming from our conservative culture. The words “crazy” and “insane” have been treated lightly more so mocked in society without delving into the root of the matter. We must take a stance to better equip health workers and individual citizens to administer “So a lot of the work we do in governance, in development, in humanitarian aid — a lot of this is tangible. But important things are not visible and these are resilience, mental health — we cannot see them but they are so powerful,” said New Zealand Aid Programme Manager Dyan Rodriguez.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, with our healthcare frontliners continuously facing phsyical danger, stress, and trauma, both the government and NGOs must conjoin efforts to reciprocate the valiance of our heath workers by now supporting not only their financial recovery but create a long term plan to address their mental health recovery post pandemic.

Aside from Psychological First Aid Trainings, there are several other pragmatic methods that can be examined at intensive roundtable discussions among stakeholders, and must soon be inititated. These must freely be offered to those at the frontlines of our war on COVID, as the very least thing we can do as a society to repay them for their invaluable service.

Send me an email at [email protected] to be a part of future discussions on this matter.
If you know anyone suffering from mental health matters, the DOH has set up the following hotline numbers:
1553 — Luzon wide landline toll free
Globe/TM — 0966-351-4518/ 0917-899-8727
Smart/ SUN/ TNT Subscribers —0908-639-2672