Keeping sane during the pandemic

Published July 5, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Raymundo W. Lo, MD, FPSP


Dr. Raymund W. Lo

It was my usual Sunday morning being spent at home in the garden when my gardener came to me and tearfully said he has to go home because his younger sister committed suicide. We were in shock. She was only 20 years old.

But her story isn’t isolated. I recently counseled an 18-year-old girl who was an honor student but began getting bad grades and not attending her online classes. When asked, she just burst into tears. There are many more such stories, which are much more common during this pandemic.

It is no surprise that the sudden shutdown of society has provoked an epidemic of mental health problems. When before, you could go about your business, interacting with many people and being free to go where you please, now you’re confined to your home with no one to talk to but your parents, siblings, children or other housemates, if you’re lucky not to be living alone. In the latter case, the isolation tends to be more intense and may provoke an acute psychiatric illness.

Even now as restrictions have eased, many are still reluctant to go out for fear of contracting the virus.

Others may feel the aftereffects of all the experiences of the previous two years, provoking what may be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, even if this has not been medically recognized, yet.

Compound this with the fear of getting infected, and the prospect of being isolated to prevent further spread of Covid-19, and you have the makings of absolute terror.

Of course, it doesn’t help that you may face financial difficulties, or ruin if you’re unable to work, which is guaranteed to drive you bonkers. It doesn’t help that authorities keep flipflopping about their policies, which to a certain extent is part and parcel of the great unknowns in dealing with a disease never before encountered. It’s actually a wonder we’re not seeing much more mental illnesses now. Talk about resilience.

Even now, as the pandemic is waning, surges can still occur. So, the mental and emotional rollercoaster we’re riding doesn’t stop. Uncertainty still abounds, as in what’s next?

Some are more adept at adjusting and will get along just fine. But others who may be emotionally fragile or in a borderline mental state may just give up, as my helper’s sister did, probably thinking this will never end and she had nothing to look forward to.

Another group of people who may feel severe mental stress are those who have long Covid, or are still suffering from the after-effects of severe Covid-19, like my college classmate who is still recovering from three months of ICU confinement. Thankfully for her, she is quite upbeat and faces her daily challenges of regaining strength in good spirits. Bravo Tita! See you soon!

For those less fortunate, we must ensure they get help before it’s too late. Our health care system is still quite deficient in psychosocial services and mental illness still suffers from stigma. Hence, these people will have difficulty in managing their conditions. As such, we must learn how to recognize early signs of emotional and mental distress in our family and friends.

Early warning signs include change in behavior, being moody and prone to crying when once cheerful, or withdrawal from circle of friends. Others may express their stress by doing poorly in school or work. They may be sleepy most of the time, an indication of chronic insomnia. Some may resort to or increase their illicit drug use. Be sensitive to these changes and when you detect them, investigate further by asking how they’re doing and what they’re feeling. This will be the time for you to seek help for them with social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists. You may save a life or two especially within your family or friends.
Above all, let us all be keenly aware that not all can cope well with the effects of the pandemic, especially the poor and downtrodden. A kind word here or a few pesos to spare there will work wonders to perk up the spirits of the depressed. It helps to be kinder nowadays.