Psychiatrist urges Filipinos to prioritize mental health amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Margarita Paulsen

The changes and uncertainty brought by the ongoing global health crisis can have significant impact on individuals especially those with preexisting mental health conditions, a psychiatrist said. 

During Pfizer division Upjohn’s “Adapting to the new normal: A dialogue on mental health, resilience, and hope” virtual conference on Tuesday, Dr. Robert D. Buenaventura, consultant psychiatrist at UERM Memorial Medical Center, emphasized the importance of maintaining good mental health during a pandemic. 

Experts urge individuals to seek mental health support during a pandemic.
Experts urge individuals to seek mental health support during a pandemic.
“One thing that we know is certain is that we need to adjust and change. This can be very challenging to a lot of individuals, [but] planned or unplanned, gradual or sudden, change is inevitable and very much part of being human,” said Dr. Buenaventura. 

He mentioned several ways COVID-19 has transformed our lives, noting how we travel, socialize, and connect have changed and will continue to do so. 

“The way we socialize and connect will look very different. [To] emphasize, it will revolve around physical distancing because this will be the most important social behavior that we will need to instill in our minds,” he said.

Dr. Buenaventura explained that people with preexisting depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder are at risk of experiencing higher anxiety levels during this time.

“As a result, they require more support or access to mental health treatments during this period. This has become a very strong concern for us. Maintaining good mental health has become very critical in this period,” he added.

Self-care is a way to promote good mental health.
Self-care is a way to promote good mental health.
The 2000 Census of Population and Housing showed that mental illness ranks third among types of disabilities in the country, the most dominant case is major depressive disorder, which affects 17 million Filipinos, according to the Global Epidemiology on Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry 2015. 

Recognizing the lack of facilities catering to mental health, Dr. Buenaventura recommended non-traditional approaches such as tele-psychiatry which is becoming popular as the usual face-to-face consultations are now limited and often inaccessible.

“Take a more proactive approach, which means promoting wellness in prevention rather than just focusing on the disease, this includes self-care, exercise, stress management, meditation, and mindfulness,” he said.

Dr. Buenaventura urged Filipinos to seek support from psychiatrists and psychologists, primary care physicians, and peer group support.

“This is very critical,” he said, “we need to track mental health at the grassroots level of our population to collect, collate, and analyze information to provide better understanding to policymakers about what is going on rather than seeing only the topline level.”

Topics: Psychiatrist , mental health , COVID-19 pandemic , global health crisis , Pfizer , Dr. Robert D. Buenaventura , post-traumatic stress disorder , PTSD
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