January 24, 2022
MANILA — Krystoffer Adam, a 30-year-old entrepreneur selling homeware, has not made money for two weeks now after his family contracted COVID-19 and was forced to isolate at home.
Without a stable source of income, Adam is worried about forthcoming bills like the rent for his office and warehouse, workers’ salaries, payments to suppliers, and outstanding debts, taxes and regulatory fees.
Amid negative thoughts about his family’s health and the loss of some business opportunities, he thinks the pandemic could be less stressful if only there was enough aid for everyone.
“Giving ‘ayuda’ [dole] to people is only a temporary solution. People now need long-term solutions to survive this pandemic,” Adam said.
According to him, the government should invest and extend its financial assistance not only to the poor but also to the middle class.
“They can offer low-interest loans to small and medium businesses that need extra funding for their operations. It would help small entrepreneurs to continue running their businesses and paying employees. It would also be an opportunity for the government to earn from the loan interest,” Adam said.
Still, he is luckier compared to some.
In a blog post on Friday, Filipino researchers at the Tokyo-based think tank Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) said that in the Philippines, the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted psychological distress mostly on the youth who have been deprived of face-to-face classes, women who found themselves with more responsibilities and millions of workers left without jobs.
Nina Ashley dela Cruz and Raymond Gaspar said in the ADBI blog that amid the pandemic, the mental state of Filipinos could be linked to their confidence and trust in the government as well as the national health-care system. Thus, they pushed for improving the COVID-19 response in the health, education and jobs sectors.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the psychological and social well-being of many Filipinos. Stay-at-home orders have left many in isolation and experiencing feelings of fear and anxiety, largely over economic hardship and uncertainty,” the researchers said, citing reports from the World Health Organization’s Philippine office and the National Center for Mental Health.
“When all classes went online, the prevailing digital divide put poor students, especially those in more remote areas, at a disadvantage. Amid workplace closures, a large group of workers, particularly part-time employees and those whose work cannot be feasibly done at home, have either been furloughed or have faced reduced working hours with negative consequences on their income and finances. Women, especially mothers, have been taking on a greater domestic burden of housework and child care during the pandemic, while the elderly have long been restricted from going outside due to their vulnerability to the virus,” Dela Cruz and Gaspar noted.
They analyzed Philippine data collected by the Imperial College London-YouGov COVID-19 behavior tracker data hub from weekly online surveys conducted from March to September 2020 to determine not only the state of Filipinos’ mental health but also how the government’s pandemic response influenced their sentiments.
“We found robust evidence of women having higher odds of experiencing considerable mental health concerns. Women, especially mothers, face a greater challenge of juggling paid work and domestic responsibilities,” the ADBI said, citing a survey at the height of the stricter enhanced community quarantine from April to May 2020 which showed women spending seven hours on housework or nearly double the four hours prepandemic.
“Our findings also revealed that young adults age 18-25 are relatively more at risk of episodes of psychological distress,” the think tank said, referring to a study in 2021 which “found a high incidence of stress, anxiety and depression among Filipino young adults aged 18-30.”
Another 2021 study, it added, showed that “accumulating worries associated with missing traditional milestones and losing economic opportunities and vital relationships are leading young adults into mental distress amid the ongoing crisis.”
Also feeling the brunt of the pandemic are part-time employees and the unemployed, the ADBI said, as workplace closures, reduced working hours, and irregular wages and salaries resulted in higher economic uncertainty, which could lead to a deterioration in their mental state.
According to the think tank, its analysis strongly linked a person’s mental health state to their perceived trust and confidence in the government and public health-care system.
Public trust a must
“On average, individuals expressing strong public trust and confidence in the national health-care system are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Citizens who are confident in the capability, reliability and efficiency of institutions to resolve issues related to the pandemic can have peace of mind and a feeling of assurance. The success of health-care authorities in mobilizing scientific expertise to tackle rising forms of misinformation about the virus and measures, such as vaccination programs, also play a crucial role,” it said.
According to the ADBI, there should be targeted policy responses to ease the psychological pain inflicted by the protracted fight against COVID-19 on the most vulnerable sectors.
“While vaccination programs are ramped up, the Philippines’ COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases should facilitate the safe reopening of schools and face-to-face classes and forge strategic partnerships with the business sector to ensure the welfare of workers. If feasible, labor market interventions, such as career guidance and skills training should enable individuals to navigate into a more digitized economic environment,” it said.
Amid the pandemic, building public trust makes policy sense and should always be considered when drafting public initiatives for addressing mental health issues, the ADBI said, pointing out that people were likely to be compliant and cooperative when they trusted the government.
“The relevant public authorities should, therefore, show strong and capable governance in setting clear directions and guidelines. Government actions should be transparent, collaborative, consistent and credible,” it added.