Understand and overcome stress during the crisis – Dr. Patipon Homhual
For the past few months, Phuket, Thailand, and a whole lot of other countries around the world have been facing the COVID-19 crisis, where the population is asked to stay home in confinement and to practice social distancing. But staying inside while being bombarded with negative news regarding the virus can have an impact on your sanity and make you feel stressed and depressed.
We had the chance to talk to Dr. Patipon ‘Poom’ Homhual, a psychiatrist who is originally from Phuket. We met him at the Phuket Field Hospital II, at the Prince of Songkla University, as he is currently helping out as a psychiatrist treating COVID-19 patients as well as his medical fellows. He pointed out some good advice on how to get through this phase with a healthy mind.
Please tell us more about yourself
[Dr. Patipon Homhual]: I was born and raised in Phuket. I studied at Phuket Wittayalai School from secondary to high school, then I studied at the Faculty of Medicine of Prince of Songkla University before I extended my major to the Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj University (Mahidol University).
I started my career at Phang Nga Hospital then I became the acting President of the Thai Mueang Chaipat Hospital in Phang Nga for two years. I was a residency at the Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj University (Mahidol University) and now, I’m currently a psychiatrist at Patong Hospital.
During this COVID-19 crisis, what common mental problems are found among people?
[Dr. Patipon Homhual]: First of all, we have to understand that stress has multiple stages: mild, moderate, and severe. It will also depend on the main factors such as how big the stressor is, personal vulnerability, and the strength of the patient. Some people are strong enough to cope with big issues while some people are vulnerable and cannot face a crisis.
COVID-19 is considered as a big stressor because it affects the whole world. Everybody experiences it together and it limits everyone’s lifestyle. Most people face a mild form of stress, such as anxiety and irritability, which possibly leads to insomnia. Some experience a higher form of stress, which can lead to depression and anxiety. To medically consider it a disease, we need to evaluate if it affects your daily routine, such as eating, working, and sleeping. In the severe stage, people can be so depressed that they are harmful to themselves or even experience a psychotic disorder.
We encountered many cases at the Department of Psychiatry at Patong Hospital during the crisis of COVID-19. Most of them were in the mild stage though some of them were in the severe stage as they had a track record of mental disorder in the past, making them more vulnerable than the average person.
How the mental situation is going to be like in the near future and how are the medical workers doing?
[Dr. Patipon Homhual]: During the pandemic, the priority for all people is to keep themselves and their families safe. In the future though, as people have lost their jobs, run out of money, and are still under a lot of limitation, the number of cases that relates to the economic crisis will be even higher.
The medical workers gradually get burnout. According to the screening test, I evaluated the colleagues at Patong Hospital, a lot of them had a mild form of stress. Few people had moderate and severe forms, which are all cured by now.
How would you suggest people handle the stress from the COVID-19 situation?
[Dr. Patipon Homhual]: Self-awareness is important. The three main aspects you should focus on are your emotions, behavior, and thoughts. Observe yourself if you get more emotional, like easily get fretful, down or upset, see if your eating and sleep behavior remain the same or not, and observe your own thoughts because, during a crisis, people tend to be more anxious and pessimistic. If you find yourself experiencing these troubles, seek some support from family, friends, and co-workers. In case the support from your close circle cannot help reducing stress, consulting with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist would be a good decision.
A lot of people read too much news and get affected negatively, which leads to anxiety and depression. It is relevant news about the virus so you should still read it but take some time off from reading news and do something entertaining or relaxing. You should schedule a specific time during the day when you are allowed to read news and a time when you have to ignore them.
In your daily life, find activities that you enjoy doing to distract yourself from stress. Social distancing is wrong, we practice physical distancing, so even though we are physically apart, we can still talk and care for each other.
If you feel overwhelmed or need to talk, please call the dedicated hotline of Vachira Hospital at 062 771 9149.