Legarda Calls for Mass Access to Mental Health Care Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

June 26, 2020

On the sixth episode of “Stories for a Better Normal: Pandemic and Climate Pathways,” with the topic, “Mental Health and Wellness: Coping in the Time of COVID-19 and Disasters”, House Deputy Speaker and Antique Representative Loren Legarda, together with resource speakers, discussed the importance of mental wellness as we cope in this time of COVID-19 and disasters.

Joining Legarda in the discussion were mental health experts Dr. Rene Samaniego, Former President of the Philippine Psychiatric Association; Dr. Jasmine Vergara, National Professional Officer on Mental Health and Substance Abuse of the World Health Organization – Philippines (WHO); and Prednison Morales, Psychosocial Support Focal Person and Registered Social Worker from the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).

Dr. Samaniego discussed how COVID-19 affected more the psychosocial well-being of frontliners, households with confirmed cases or deaths due to COVID-19, and those living in areas with a high number of cases. He shared tips on how healthcare professionals and frontliners can take care of their mental health and deal with feelings of hopelessness or helplessness in this difficult time.

“This is not the first time we’re dealing with a crisis, whether personal or collective, but this may be the biggest one yet. It is important for us to tap into the resources that we have been able to accumulate over time. Hindi naman po tayo completely helpless about the crisis because we have dealt with crisis in the past. There’s a beginning and end to everything, so we would just need to see ourselves through this,” said Dr. Samaniego.

Dr. Samaniego also emphasized that it is important that all workers have access to COVID-19 testing and receive adequate emotional and moral support. He also said that employees will have a sense of security if there is a commitment from their employers that they will receive support in the event that they become ill.

Dr. Jasmine Vergara emphasized that maintaining mental health, defined by the WHO as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community,” is also a priority in the current pandemic.

Dr. Vergara also provided advice for health workers, managers of health facilities, people who are looking after children, older adults, people in isolation, and the general public to look after their own mental health during this pandemic. She also discussed the WHO’s stress management guide.

“Difficult thoughts and feelings hook us and pull us away from our values. When we engage in life, pay attention to others, focus on what we’re doing and live by our values, we manage stress much better. Looking after yourself and your team members while working in COVID-19 response is not a luxury. It is a responsibility, and this also goes with everyone else and the general public. Going to the new normal, we have to be aware that it’s our responsibility to take care of our own mental health,” said Dr. Vergara.

For the PRC, Prednison Morales shared their Psychosocial Support Initiatives which aim to provide practical and basic psychosocial support for people in distress such as returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and people who are suffering or recovering from COVID-19.

“The Philippine Red Cross is always willing and ready to support our national and local governments, especially in terms of psychosocial support and psychological first aid. We want to reach out even to our barangay or local health workers. Sa ngayon po, we are working on several videos and presentations na pwede po nilang ma-access online. But for now, gusto po namin yung may direct interaction so gumagawa po kami ng mga iba’t-ibang platform kung saan pwede kaming ma-access. It can be through Facebook or Zoom, and we are more than willing to help through our local chapters,” said Morales.

Legarda, who co-authored the Mental Health Act of 2018, emphasized the need for mass access to mental health care or psychological first aid including in remote areas. She also highlighted that being productive can help people cope in stressful situations.

“Even while forced to be indoors, small accomplishments are important because it is part of our coping. People doing their hobbies like gardening, exercising, or cooking are practical approaches to cope in stressful situations. It gives us a reason to look forward to the coming days,” Legarda said.

As an online discussion to promote health, environmental consciousness, and climate-adaptive practices, Stories for a Better Normal aims to change the mindset of individuals, families, and communities to lead sustainable lives towards a healthier, safer, and much better normal than we used to have.

This online discussion is organized in partnership between the Office of Deputy Speaker Legarda and the Climate Change Commission (CCC), with support from the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), The Climate Reality Project-Philippines, and Mother Earth Foundation. ###