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Keeping a healthy mind during the COVID-19 pandemic

BATTLE CRY As the Philippines battles the new coronavirus disease, Filipinos have banded together and promised to help each other overcome the health and economic crises. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

Do you find yourself eating more, or less than usual? Or openly expressing irrational anger on social media or against family members? Or being irritable at the slightest provocation? Or finding it hard to sleep, or have been oversleeping?

If you are experiencing any of those, chances are you are under stress while under quarantine in this time of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19). And mental health advocates in Negros Oriental and Iloilo provinces can help you through online chats.

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A group of mostly psychologists from Silliman University in Negros Oriental’s capital city of Dumaguete has opened a Facebook page, aptly called “Your Mental Health amid Corona Virus,” to serve as venue for anyone who needed someone to talk to during the quarantine.Another group in Iloilo created the Agubayani community group in Viber last April.

Michele Joan Valbuena, a psychology professor at Silliman, says a pandemic like this will cause many emotional experiences and people will need assistance to make sense of them.

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“People are feeling afraid, angry, uncertain, anxious and confused. We feel grief, in general,” Valbuena says.

QUIET Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental’s provincial capital, is empty and quiet in the afternoons since the enhanced community quarantine was imposed on April 3 to contain the spread of COVID-19. —MELISSA ALEXANDRA PAL

She says fellow health advocates started meeting through Zoom, a free videoconferencing tool, fired up with one objective: to “give people spaces to talk about their pandemic experiences.”

They agreed to move right away because “people were getting angry, confused, feeling uncertain and afraid,” recalls Valbuena.

Mental health advocate Jake Macahig created the Facebook page, Your Mental Health amid Corona Virus. Rogen Alcantara, chair of Silliman’s psychology department, looked for guidance counselors and experts in psychosocial processing.

Chizanne Sarabia-Larena, another mental health advocate, reached out to psychology practitioners and guidance counselors from the neighboring Negros Oriental State University.

REACHING OUT Mental health advocates in Dumaguete City reach out to residents in the Visayas and Mindanao, and talk about their experiences and concerns while on quarantine. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Stress under quarantine

Valbuena points out that limiting people’s normal movement without much preparation can lead to a depressive disorder, loneliness, or self-harm/suicidal behavior.

Fears of being infected with disease that has no known cure, losing jobs, running out of money and going hungry can trigger the stress of people under quarantine.

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The stress may manifest in physical reactions: allergies or even COVID-like symptoms like cough and fever.

“If we do not manage that stress, our body will just falter, and we don’t want that to happen especially at this time,” says Lourdes Angela Piñero, another mental health advocate.

Aside from accessing the group through Facebook, they also hold virtual support group sessions through Zoom by sending them an email ([email protected] or [email protected]), or a text message (0967-3858403).

Online session is limited to about five participants to allow them ample time to express. It could last for about two to three hours each week. The volunteers also do one-on-one consultations.

LISTENING BOARD Members of Agubayani community Viber group in Iloilo City are ready to listen as people make sense of disruption to their lives due to the coronavirus pandemic. —PHOTO COURTESY OF GLOBAL SHAPERS ILOILO HUB

Pandemic experiences

“We want to emphasize these sessions are not for counseling or therapy. We are primarily offering spaces for people to talk about their pandemic experiences,” Valbuena clarifies.

The recurring themes of the conversations revolve around confusion, fear and anxiety.

“We would help them understand that it is actually grief they are feeling over the concept of quarantine and not understanding as much about the pandemic. Some of them just break down and cry,” Valbuena says.

So far, she says, most participants felt good about being able to pour out their feelings and express themselves.

“Many of them said they were able to talk to someone, listen to others and learn from them, feel being supported and realize that no one is alone in this experience,” she says.

ADVOCATES Doctors Joan Valbuena, Louanne Piñero and Chizanne Larena, all of them mental health advocates in Negros Oriental province, discuss their next move through a video conference. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Agubayani group

In Iloilo, the need to extend a helping hand pushed mental health advocates and counselors to form a Viber group, Agubayani, coined from the Ilonggo word “agubay,” which means “support,” and “bayani,” which means “hero.”

Dr. Angelica Quitasol, Agubayani convener, says conversation topics among members of the Viber group touch on wellness and news about COVID-19. But discussions also veer toward music, movies, books, online educational courses and food.

“We want to make them hopefully more productive, more connected and smarter at the end of the day,” says Quitasol.

The Agubayani community has 38 members and hopes to draw in more by campaigning through various social media platforms.

They refrain from joining the more popular and accessible Facebook because Viber has less hate comments and arguments, and people who want to temporarily have a break from Facebook can access Viber, Quitasol says.

“I guess it’s more intimate to do the conversations there, which parallels to our desire to be more connected. And Viber has more privacy; you wouldn’t particularly know who sees and likes the posts, photos and links so you wouldn’t be pressured,” she says.

TAPPING TECH Dr. Jake Macahig taps technology to confer with his fellow volunteer mental health professionals. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Survival mode

Quitasol points out that people tend to act on fears because the brain will usually go on survival mode due to some oversensationalized news online. They will imagine the worst-case scenarios, she adds.

“Instead of being focused on our fears, shift the lens to solutions,” she stresses.

Quitasol says the isolation brought by this pandemic can pose a more serious threat to those with preexisting mental health diagnosis, such as generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder.

Israh Marie Dayalo, 21, says joining Agubayani helps her remain mentally healthy.

“This is a rare opportunity to find a community online where all the experts in their field give their time to the people who are willing to grow in this time of crisis,” says Dayalo, a psychometrician from Capiz province.

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, mental health, mental stress, Quarantine
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