If you are having thoughts of suicide, know that help is always here. You are not alone. Call the National Center For Mental Health 24/7 Crisis Hotline 1553, 0917 899 8727(USAP), and/or 7-989-8727 (USAP).
Maria (not her real name) was traumatized as a child, leading her to think that sad was the only way to be. It's a feeling that was heightened by the long-running quarantine, and an experience shared by many, at times in silence.
On her worst days, she questioned her own existence. What saved her from a potential tailspin was professional help. She advises others who feel the psychological toll of the pandemic to seek help. It's okay to not be okay.
"My sadness started to become existential. I was thinking, ano pa bang point mabuhay kung ganito lang ako kalungkot palagi?," she said. Despite having friends she could count on, doing well in school, and having enough resources at her own disposal, she still couldn't feel her best.
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"I knew it could be depression— I've read about it, saw it in the movies—but it was hard for me to acknowledge and call it for what it is, kasi as far as I knew, functional naman ako," she said, adding she was now in a better place.
"If siguro never ako nakatanggap ng help, I can really imagine myself planning to take my own life," she said.
The pandemic is a mental health crisis
In September, the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) has reported a five-fold increase in distress calls to its hotline to 400 per month from 80 before the quarantine started last March.
Those aged 15 to 29 are most vulnerable to mental health issues, the same age group that takes online classes, according to the World Health Organization. The Department of Education had said that it was "unfair to link suicide" to distance learning.
"If we zoom in on our educational system, with the remote learning, we cannot expect a good quality of learning and teaching. I have listened to concerns of students about 'just getting by' - just submitting outputs without really learning as much as they did before," said John Robert Rilveria from the UP Department of Psychology.
"It's like feeling trapped in a remote learning set-up because there's nothing else to do but to satisfy requirements. This becomes distressing because these students will worry about their own future," he said.
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It cuts across generations
While Gen Z and millennials have a reputation of being aware about mental health, the pandemic has forced older generations to confront their own sadness and depression, Rilveria said.
"It is normal to worry about our health because of the pandemic. However, those people with pre-existing conditions (physical or mental) and those who are immuno-compromised, may be more vulnerable to more intense anxious experiences. The distress could trigger suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death or dying," he said.
Existing problems with family work and school add to the stress. It doesn't help that the planet is in a recession and economies are bleeding jobs, he said. Physical distancing is also taking its toll, he said.
"Research has shown that social support can serve as a buffer against distress. But with this being reduced, the person becomes more vulnerable. I have always observed people with high suicidality to have the tendency to think about death/dying and even attempt at hurting themselves when they are alone," he said.
Help is always here
Shared suffering because of the pandemic has demystified seeking psychological help as something that is only for the rich, analysts said.
"Minsan kahit okay na ko sa medication, nagte-therapy ako, at relatively hindi na masama relationship ko with my family, hindi ko pa rin mapigilan to feel really angry at random moments. I think of all the people who hurt me and I just get extremely sad," said Maria. She experienced abuse from her family as a child.
"So gets kahit relatively okay na mental health ko, nangyayari pa rin yung ganung relapses. Paano pa kaya yung mga tao who has to deal with it every single day in their homes during an isolating time like this?" she said.
Many clinics in Metro Manila have started offering free telepsychotherapy services. For UP Diliman students, faculty, and staff, the UPD PsycServ is there.
On a nationwide scale, NCMH’s launched their “Kamusta Ka? Tara Usap Tayo,” crisis hotline in 2019. In 2018, the country passed RA 11036 or the Mental Health Act which called for national action against suicide and a national policy on mental health.
"[Those without help could think] na normal lang yung ganung sadness and they're not given the chance to confront a condition they probably have. I can only imagine how much other people who are not as lucky as me have to go through," said Maria.