April 11, 2022
MANILA , Philippines — Underprivileged or poor people are most likely to suffer pandemic-induced mental illnesses due to less access to resources, according to a study made by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
The research, led by a team from the University of the Philippines Manila and supported by the DOST National Research Council (NRC), also showed that quarantine restrictions resulted in increased levels of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, including lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, increased alcohol consumption and smoking, among urban poor households.
In his weekly report, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said the study showed high cases of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and stress among underprivileged adults in Tacloban City.
The city is prone to natural disasters and was one of the areas that bore the brunt of the destructive force of Supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) in 2013, leaving at least 2,200 residents dead.
Researcher and professor Meredith Labarda of the DOST-NRC said that among the risk factors for mental health problems during a pandemic were an individual’s hospitalization history, remote location of residence, unemployment, lifestyle stressors, increased alcohol consumption, and lower education.
She added that while the impact of natural disasters on mental health was well-studied, there was “little to no existing literature on the long-term mental effects of prolonged disasters such as a pandemic.”
In a survey of 102 respondents aged 18 years old and above from urban poor communities in Tacloban City, the research group found that 41 percent experienced insomnia, 40 percent suffered from depression and anxiety while 8 percent complained of stress.
Lower sense of well-being
The team also assessed the behaviors of the participants before and during the pandemic and reported that 59 percent said they exercised less because of pandemic restrictions while 34 percent admitted to drinking more alcohol.
On the other hand, 51 percent resorted to unhealthy diets and 20 percent started smoking more.
Aside from these, Labarda said the participants engaged in “risky health-seeking behaviors” as 59 percent postponed their vaccination, 40 percent avoided medical consultation even for non-COVID health problems while 31 percent bought anti-COVID drugs.
“Lower sense of well-being and poorer mental health outcomes were correlated with negative perceptions of prolonged restrictions due to the pandemic,” she noted.
To address these concerns, the research team recommended that local governments must ensure better communication strategies targeting urban poor communities that were more vulnerable to the effects of pandemic restrictions.
A screening for mental health problems must also be integrated with the routine clinical encounter offered in front-line health services, Labarda said.