By Gabriel Dolot
Ever since the Luzon-wide Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was imposed last March 16, things have clearly changed. According to IBON Foundation, an independent research think tank, 11 million workers and informal sector earners have their livelihood at stake due to the novel coronavirus disease that allayed movement in almost the entire country; the virus which infects the physical body and instills fear in the mind.
While medical frontliners are there to help those infected regain their physical health, it is also important to consider our mental health in battling against the virus.
The longer this lockdown for the province of Laguna plays out, the longer students in dorms and apartments within and outside the UP Los Baños (UPLB) campus, stress over their welfare and their families’ from afar. Lawrence Neil Sagarino, a freshman studying BS Development Communication, is one of those students who were not able to travel back to his hometown in the Dinagat Islands in Caraga, because of the ECQ. He fears not only for himself but also for his family, knowing that there is a slim chance of him going home. “Nakakapanghina na I have to stay here for a month or more doing nothing. May mga kilala akong nakauwi agad pero mayaman talaga sila kasi they booked their tickets right away, hours or a day before [ECQ]. Mahal din kaya mag-travel pauwi sa amin.”
Aside from his regrets not being able to go home before the lockdown, students like him experience stress and anxiety from the drastic changes in their everyday life. From attending classes at UPLB and preparing for the upcoming exams and deadlines, he becomes a prisoner in his own apartment with the virus as the gatekeeper. “Medyo na-challenge talaga ako this time kasi wala akong makausap masyado tapos hindi ko nakakain [yung] comfort foods ko plus yung worry na baka asymptomatic lang ako ‘di ba tapos ayun, but kinakaya naman yung lungkot, anxieties at pangamba na baka di na ako makauwi ganun,”he added.
Adjustments in daily routine coupled with fear from possibly contacting CoVid-19, cause difficulty in coping with reality and heightens the stress and anxiety of any individual. The workers are among those highly affected wherein amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they still strive to fulfill their jobs and sustain their families’ needs. For some, a work from home scheme was feasible, while for others, they were completely displaced.
Paulo Luis Zipagan, 22, is a teacher at the Xavier School in Nuvali, wherein he used to commute every day from Bay town to Sta. Rosa, Laguna. His school adopted a work from home scheme. “Masasabi ko rin na ‘nakakabaliw’ siya kasi sobrang restricted ng feeling, sobrang kulong, limitado ng pwedeng gawin at ang hirap kasi hindi ito ‘yung ‘normal’ sa akin. Sobrang abnormal ng pakiramdam,” Paulo said.
Emerson Espina, 19, a student assistant studying BS Forestry, had to stop reporting to work as directed by the administration until the quarantine is lifted. Being a working student is his way of gaining independence and helping his aunt with the expenses in the university. This situation has left him living far from his family, jobless, and without assurance when he’ll be going home. Emerson Laments: “Especially, my birthday is coming soon and I’m not used to spending it without my closest friends and family.”
Dan Paolo Yema, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor in UPLB Department of Social Sciences said that these challenging times have made it more difficult for those living away from home, to experience the safety and security of a family. It helps a person to cope with the situation and being far away from them poses stress reactions, especially if there’s that fear of not being able to make sure they’re safe.
For some, the quarantine may just postpone their physical interaction but that’s not always the case. In the second quarter of 2019, the world bank sees 23.1 million Filipinos living below the poverty threshold. Most Filipinos living below the poverty line rely on minimum wage jobs that pay per hour or per day, so not going to work means no income. ECQ imperils their livelihood, it seizes their ability to provide for their families and themselves. Last March 30, a man from Angeles, Pampanga tried to commit suicide because he could no longer sustain food for his family, but fortunately he was rescued by the police.
Under ECQ, citizens found violating the set of implemented rules and regulations could be arrested but with exemptions for humanitarian purposes such as buying food and other necessities. However, LGUs are not given clear guidelines and therefore result in misinterpretation. One instance in Caloocan, a tricycle driver was arrested because he went to the nearest market to buy food and apparently his quarantine pass was from another barangay.
But according to the Department of Interior and Local Government Undersecretary for Barangay Affairs, Martin Diño, the man should’ve been permitted to enter because he was just there to buy food. Aside from that, one can say that his livelihood was already affected due to the suspension of public transportation. The stress due to the arrest and the needs unaddressed such as food, safety, and security could be seen as detrimental to one’s mental health. According to Reed Jordan’s Poverty’s toll on mental health, “ The poor are left with little mental ‘bandwidth’ with which to perform everyday tasks.”
No one is much more at risk than the frontliners. The need to satisfy physical needs in order to maintain stable mental well-being cannot be more emphasized when it comes to our health workers. They are more at risk of putting their mental health in jeopardy because the situation is much more demanding of their time and energy which could eventually lead to burnout.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 1257 out of 1830 health and medical practitioners in China have had symptoms of depression (634 / 50.4%), insomnia (427/ 34.0%), anxiety (560/44.6%), and distress (899/71.5%). So far in the Philippines, 17 doctors have died due to complications caused by the virus. Before we know it, there may already be countless doctors who are already experiencing symptoms of mental illnesses. Aside from physical protection, they also need care and support from those around them.
Professor Yema further emphasized, “Maintaining mental health is as important as maintaining physical health. Sometimes, illnesses may become worse if the mental health condition/wellbeing of the person is not addressed. Stress and anxiety may, even more, aggravate what the person is feeling physically, thus may affect resistance to illnesses and recovery.” [P]
Photo from Serve the People Brigade – UPLB