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Philippines

Filipino priest warns of pandemic's mental health fallout

Better support and services are needed to tackle 'psychological impact of coronavirus'

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Filipino priest warns of pandemic's mental health fallout

A resident rides her bicycle past a soldier in Manila on July 16 after local authorities reimposed a lockdown in the city following an increase in Covid-19 infections. A Catholic priest is also warning people to safeguard their mental health during the pandemic. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)

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A Catholic priest has urged churchgoers to prioritize their mental health as the Philippines continues its battle with coronavirus.

According to Camillian Father Dan Cancino, a psychologist, the pandemic does not only attack the physical wellbeing but also the mental health of many Filipino Catholics.

“We’ve endured a lot of bad experiences during the past months. Many have lost their jobs and we are still afraid of the incurable virus. All this had led to mental health issues,” he said.

The psychologist also said that special attention should be given to younger people who have experienced a “major shift” in learning and interpersonal relationships.

“Anxiety hits everyone, not only parents but also the children and the poor, whose future becomes uncertain if they cannot fulfill their academic requirements due to lack of money to buy laptops and other gadgets,” he added.

Father Cancino referred to online learning programs introduced by the Education Department that require students to have gadgets for classes.

In June, a high school student killed himself due to depression triggered by the additional financial burden his studies had imposed on his struggling family.

Father Cancino, who is also a medical doctor and executive secretary of the bishops’ Commission on Healthcare, said depression and anxiety needed to be addressed quickly before they consume a person.

“We need to make a collective effort to improve access to mental health services and support. Let’s bring this commitment forward to really increase awareness and the value of mental health at all levels of society,” he added.

To address mental health issues, Father Cancino, together with a local pharmaceutical company, launched a webinar on mental health and psychological support called “AKAP Guro:CONNECTed”.

It aims to train, engage, activate, and harmonize strategies for teachers and school administrators to prepare them for classes resuming this year.

Speakers include renowned psychiatrist Professor Lourdes Rosanna De Guzman and Keny Aranas, vice-chairperson for Education and Research for the Youth for Mental Health in the Philippines.

“We, teachers, are very thankful for the efforts of Father Cancino and [others] for sharing their expertise on how to handle depression among the young,” a state schoolteacher Renato Villamor told UCA News.

Villamor said teachers had difficulty in dealing with depression among students because they were untrained.

“We are simply teachers. We are not psychologists, so we do not have the ability or expertise to deal with depression. With the pandemic, teachers are now called upon to deal with depression among the young,” Villamor added.

Father Cancino has also spearheaded the creation of mental health ministries in Manila Archdiocese parishes.

The groups listen and give advice to those suffering from depression.

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