MY TWO boys, Vash and Vin, have been quarantining somewhere in the forested hills of Kapangan, Benguet for five months now. During their stay there, they have become the proud rugged "probinsyanos" with all the insect bites and scratches of childhood fun. I am missing them always, but in this pandemic, perhaps they are safer there than in this crowded and high risk urban La Trinity.
When I last saw them, their eyes have changed -- they have become livelier and more rested since they play outside more than they play with the celebrated gadgets. Their hands have become stronger from swinging from tree to tree, their legs sturdier from running in the rolling grasses, their bodies healthier from eating guavas, bananas, and rambutans. These activities they can only do in the wide spaces of the provinces where physical distancing is natural, and where there are lesser people and more trees. Compared to them, the children here in the city and the urban capital appear to be more stressed and anxious. Since enforcers are stricter, they are forced to stay inside their homes for months with only the digital entertainment. Although the IATF protocols discourage children outside their homes, studies have shown that the prolonged lockdown can have lasting psychological distress to children -- including depression and feelings of isolation.
Science does not lie on this one. For hundreds of years, we have promoted outdoor play and nature walks for children's mental health development. Locking them up today to protect them against the virus must be balanced with occasionally bringing them outdoors for sunshine and eco-walks. There has to be a "holistic approach" in dealing with these public health challenges.
While it is true that CoViD19 is real, mental health is also real. In the city, the number of deaths from suicide during the lockdown is almost the same with those who died due to the virus. There is also a growing number of deaths from cardiac arrest and stroke that may be attributed to physical inactivity and stress brought by the quarantine measures. Again, there is a need for holistic approach in preventing the spread of the virus and at the same time promoting the community's overall health, including mental health, through effective measures like opening nature parks and open spaces, and interventions by the local social services.