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NCMH records spike in mental health consults during coronavirus lockdown

Sofia Tomacruz
NCMH records spike in mental health consults during coronavirus lockdown
National Center for Mental Health psychiatrist Bernard Argamosa says their crisis hotline received an average of 30 to 35 calls per day and 400 calls per month during the lockdown

MANILA, Philippines – The National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) reported a spike in the number of Filipinos facing mental health issues due to the coronavirus pandemic, with calls flooding the center’s crisis hotline during the Philippines’ months-long lockdown. 

In a press briefing on Monday, June 8, NCMH psychiatrist Bernard Argamosa said the center observed that the number of daily calls increased during the lockdown, with an average of 30 to 35 calls recorded daily from March to May 2020.

In the months before the pandemic, Argamosa said the center received an average of 13 to 15 calls daily from May 2019 to February 2020.

The same was true for monthly calls, Argamosa said, with the NCMH counting a monthly average of 953 calls from March to May 2020. This was higher than the 400 monthly average calls received by the center from May 2019 to February 2020, or before lockdown measures took effect across the country. 

Argamosa said the monthly average of calls related to suicide also increased, with the center receiving 45 calls per month as of May 31. 

The Philippine government had implemented one of the longest lockdowns in the world, with residents in the island group of Luzon under strict quarantine measures from March 17 to April 30. Lockdown measures were later extended in Metro Manila and other “high-risk areas” until May 15, and slightly modified until May 31. 

On June 1, the capital region, along with “high-risk areas,” transitioned to a general community quarantine, where quarantine protocols were eased further. 

Why people are calling

The pyschiatrist said the top reason people reached out for help was due to “anxiety-related concerns.”

He said this was to be expected as uncertainty brought about by the pandemic was at a high, considering that the health crisis was unprecedented. Figures showed about 30% of callers in April and 27% of callers in May reported feeling increased levels of anxiety. 

Others who called the NCMH wanted to inquire for someone else, needed someone to talk to, or needed referrals to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Argamosa said that since the NCMH launched its crisis hotline a year ago until May 31, the center has recorded a total of 6,905 calls.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health urged the public to take care of their mental health as part of measures to protect themselves against the coronavirus. 

The United Nations earlier underscored the importance of caring for one’s mental health, saying it must be “front and center of every country’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Argamosa said people can reach the NCMH for their concerns at the following numbers: 

  • Mobile: 09178988727
  • Landline: 02-7-989-8727
  • Landline to landline: 1553 

People can call the 24/7 hotline numbers for free. Frontliners and repatriated overseas Filipino workers can also avail themselves of NCMH’s services here.

As of Monday, the Philippines has 22,474 coronavirus cases, with 1,011 deaths and 4,637 recoveries. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.