Sunday, October 25, 2020

Understanding mental health and its value to your overall well-being

The Philippines already had one of the highest rates of depression in Southeast Asia even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. In the record, there are more than three million Filipinos afflicted with the illness. 

Based on the PhilCare CQ Study, which was conducted during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period, 95.9 percent of Filipinos surveyed were worried about the health of their loved ones.

Furthermore, nine out of ten respondents (89.9%) were “anxious about getting COVID-19.” Half of the 800 people nationwide who were surveyed (49.1%) also reported that their sleeping habits had "gone bad.” Practically half (45.5%) also said that they were having difficulty concentrating on daily tasks.
Health experts say that anxiety, depression, and insomnia have become more prevalent among Filipinos in the past seven months, since the pandemic began.

Worsening situation
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH), the number of Filipinos calling support hotlines (for mental distress and suicide) has risen from a pre-pandemic average of 80 calls a month to 400 calls a month during the pandemic itself.

This has prompted warnings from doctors that there is a need for healthcare providers to focus on providing support and treatment for these disorders--all of which fall within the category of mental illnesses.

It is rather sad and worrisome that for so long mental health has been largely ignored or at most, taken for granted, by many Filipinos. This is due to several factors including ignorance, wrong ideas about how our minds and brains work, superstitious beliefs, and the shame and stigma associated with mental illness.

For example, many Filipinos, including parents and community or religious leaders, don't quite understand that anxiety and depression are real illnesses. Many of them think that a person going through these are just lazy, weak, or "nag-iinarte" or "nagda-drama lang." This has caused many Filipinos with anxiety and depression to fail to seek treatment.

This wrong thinking (that depression and anxiety are not "real" illnesses) leads to another wrong notion: that a person with depression or anxiety can just "snap out" of it using willpower or by distracting or entertaining themselves.

Mental illness is the result of psychological trauma, physical injury, stress, or genetic factors that affect our brains and our minds. When untreated, mental illness can result in mild to moderate to severe symptoms that include insomnia, depression, anxiety, hallucinations, delusions, psychosis, and suicide. According to the DOH, intentional self-harm or suicide has become the ninth leading cause of death among Filipinos 20-24 years old. Globally, the WHO has stated that Depression leading to Suicide has now become the second leading cause of death for those aged 18 to 34. These trends are extremely alarming and need to addressed immediately.

Break the stigma, normalize mental health
Many Filipinos who are experiencing mental health symptoms do not seek help because they feel ashamed. They're afraid of being thought of as "crazy" by their family, relatives, and friends. They are afraid that their employers and co-workers would think they are incompetent and unfit to work if they are diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar, or some other mental illness.

In other words, if we are ever going to help reduce the incidents of mental illness, it will take more than just medical treatment or pharmaceutical interventions. The basic step towards a solution is to help society accept the reality of mental illness and make it as "ordinary" as any other disease that affects any of the body's organs. When we break the stigma, we can make mental health a normal priority and preoccupation for all Filipinos.

Other important factors preventing those in need from seeking help are Accessibility and Affordability.

This is why it's important for health maintenance organizations (HMOs) to step in and include among their benefits the treatment and support for those under mental and emotional distress. It sends a clear message that depression, anxiety, bipolar, panic attacks, and other mental illnesses are simply part of life and should not be considered shameful.

Moreover, data shows that many of the symptoms referred to HMO care are assigned treatments that are for physical illnesses, when in fact, the symptoms are actually being caused by a mental illness. Mental disorders are known to trigger symptoms not just in the mind but in the body as well.

For example, a person who is depressed may have headaches and feel physically exhausted. On the other hand, a person with anxiety may have difficulty breathing. A person who is having a panic attack may feel chest tightness or even chest pain—and some of them mistakenly think they are having a heart attack.

Furthermore, good mental health directly impacts physical health. And a positive mental outlook can help those who are dealing with an accident or physical illness to recover more quickly and more successfully.

The lack of awareness or perspective on mental health may lead both the patient and the HMO staff to think that in these hypothetical instances, the cause of symptoms could be migraine or asthma, or a heart condition. The exhaustion may be attributed to some other physical condition. As a result, the patient and HMO expend energy, resources, and time on tests that seek to rule out a physical ailment—only when all these tests are done, and the costs paid for, will a mental illness be considered as the cause.

This is a rather inefficient, perhaps even wasteful, approach. Wouldn’t it be better if the possibility of a mental illness was considered early on—so that it can either be ruled out or verified sooner? If so, the patient gets the proper and effective treatment right away.

Spotting a mental illness like anxiety or depression sooner can also help reduce the cost of treatment. For example, a person who is mildly depressed and suffers from insomnia, headaches, and exhaustion can benefit from a treatment comprised of regular physical exercise, shifting to a healthier diet, a change of pace at work or at home, getting quality sleep, and learning effective psychological coping strategies when dealing with stress. All that might cost significantly lower compared to repeated trips to the hospital and having multiple diagnostic tests.

We should all consider having an annual Mental Wellness checkup, just like we would have an annual Physical checkup. This kind of preventative maintenance approach is a must for maintaining our vehicles, so why not for our bodies and minds as well, to make sure we stay in good form, and ready for the challenges ahead?

HeyPhil Mind Care Program

PhilCare, which undertook the study, is using the report's findings to design supportive interventions for those who are going through psychological and emotional distress.

"Mental and emotional distress do not happen spontaneously. There are genetic, physical, and environmental factors that trigger such distress. Ideally, a person should get help as early as possible so that their symptoms do not get worse," said PhilCare President and CEO Jaeger L. Tanco.

This is why PhilCare has partnered with MyGolana to launched its HeyPhil Mind Care Program, which utilizes advanced technologies, licensed and experienced counselors and best practices, to assist those just wanting a mental health checkup for which is a set of interventions that begin with counseling sessions for those experiencing mental and emotional distress, and may be needing appropriate interventions. Besides counseling, PhilCare has also begun a series of free webinars that teach people the basics of mental health and how they can get help for psychological and emotional challenges.

PhilCare’s free webinar "No One Left Behind: Mental Health is Everyone's Responsibility" is an excellent starting point for anyone who wishes to understand mental health and how to achieve it for oneself and for loved ones. It's now available for viewing at PhilCare's Facebook Page at

Major takeaways from the webinar include: a) Love and respect for each other as the foundation of mental health; b) The foundation of mental health should be laid firmly in the family and nurtured through childhood and adolescence; c) The workplace can make or break mental health; employers and employees have to create an environment that promotes proper thinking, a safe space for expressing and processing emotions, and protocols for managing stress; and d) It's okay to not be okay--and to seek help from family and friends, and if necessary counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists, when going through mental and emotional distress.

Watch PhilCare's mental health webinars on its Facebook Page and learn more on how you can protect and nurture your mental well-being especially during times of stress or crisis. For more information on the HeyPhil Mind Care Program, visit [URL]; email Mindcare@philcare, or call [phone number].

If you are having thoughts of self-harm, call a doctor or visit the nearest emergency room. Or you may call the DOH crisis hotline at 0917-899-USAP (8727) or 0917 989-USAP (8727). You may also call HOPELINE at (02) 804-HOPE (4673) or 0917 558 HOPE (4673).

Department of Health
World Health Organization  
PhilCare CQ Wellness Study, 2020Fmo

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