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What You Need To Know About Depression And The Country’s Mental Health State

According to the Department of Health (DOH), depression is one of the most common health problems among youth around the world.
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In the Philippines, depression is one of the most common mental health concerns, especially among the younger generations. Over the years, the country has made progress in terms of creating awareness and taking action towards mental health issues, but we still have ways to go. 

Depression by the numbers

According to the Department of Health (DOH), depression is one of the most common health problems among youth around the world. In the Philippines, 3.3 percent of the population suffered from depressive disorders in 2012. In 2015, DOH conducted the Global School-Based Student Health Survey among high school students aged 13 to 15 years old, and 11.5 percent of those participants “had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months before the survey.” The same survey found that 11.1 percent of participants had made plans on attempting suicide while 17 percent had attempted it. 

What exactly is depression?

Depressive disorders manifest in various forms, which include the classic condition called major depressive disorder. Other forms include dysthymia (or persistent depressive disorder), disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, among others.

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Depressive disorders are commonly characterized by the presence of sad, empty, or irritable mood which often comes with changes in bodily and intellectual processes that significantly impair the normal day-to-day functioning of an individual. According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the nine symptoms of depression are: 

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  1. Depressed mood
  2. Disruption in sleeping patterns (suffering from either inability to sleep or excessive sleepiness)
  3.  Decreased interest or pleasure
  4.  Feelings of worthlessness
  5. Loss of energy or fatigue
  6.  Difficulty concentrating or thinking, or indecisiveness
  7.  Changes in appetite or weight
  8.  Psychomotor disturbance
  9. Recurrent suicidal thoughts

Important note: Careful consideration must be made to distinguish depression from normal feelings of sadness. In depression, symptoms exist nearly every day for a duration of at least two weeks and cause significant distress or impairment in social or occupational aspects of the individual. If you are experiencing any of these, it is advisable that you consult with a professional for proper diagnosis.

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Mental health initiatives in the Philippines

In the country, various movements and organizations have been established to bring light to the nation’s mental health situation.

NCMH

The National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) is a government-established hospital which offers preemptive, restorative, and rehabilitative psychiatric services for Filipinos battling with mental health issues. NCMH was founded in 1925 under the Public Works Act 3258 and operates under the Department of Health. Its previous names include the Insular Psychopathic Hospital and National Mental Hospital before being renamed to National Center for Mental Health.

Mental Health Act

In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Republic Act 11036, also referred to as the Mental Health Law. Its author and principal sponsor is Senator Risa Hontiveros, but it was also authored by Senators Vicente Sotto III, Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillanes IV, Paolo Begino Aquino IV, Juan Edgardo Angara, and Joel Villanueva.

The fulfillment of a law governing mental health is a huge milestone for the country. Its primary goal is to offer more affordable and attainable psychiatric services for those in need, regardless of their socio-economic status. 

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Hopeline

Hopeline was created by the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation as a 24/7 suicide prevention and crisis support helpline. In 2016, the DOH, together with NCMH, incorporated Hopeline into their mental health campaign. Three years later, Hopeline announced that they will be ceasing operations following the withdrawal of support from both DOH and NCMH. However, Hopeline made a subsequent statement to clarify that, with the help of NGOs and individual donors, they will continue with operation despite DOH and NCMH’s withdrawal from the initiative.

Mental health initiatives in schools

Given that the youth make up a considerable percentage of the population significantly affected by mental health issues, various schools have taken action to not only expand students’ understanding about the experiences they’re going through but also help them cope and promote mental well-being.

Ateneo de Manila University

Ateneo’s student government Sanggunian launched a Commission on Mental Health which seeks to provide ways for Ateneans to share and ask for help regarding their mental health concerns. One of their initiatives is the Mental Health Awareness Week, created in partnership with student organizations Ateneo Psyche and Ateneo PEERS, which initiates various week-long activities and campaigns to help promote knowledge about mental health issues, particularly ones the students themselves are experiencing.

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Ateneo is also home to the Ateneo Bulatao Center for Psychological Services, which serves as the service and research arm of the university’s Psychology Department. It is named in honor of Fr. Jaime C. Bulatao, SJ, a Jesuit who established Ateneo’s Psychology Department in 1960 and served as one of the founders of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. Ateneo Bulatao Center offers assessment, counseling, and therapy, and intends to nurture psychological wellness in and outside of the institution. 

De La Salle University

In 2019, De La Salle University – Dasmariñas’ Student Wellness Center and the Psychology Department's Center for Applied Psychology launched their first Mental Health Youth Summit which intends to educate the students about the significance of mental health. The said summit is required for freshmen in order to instill its advocacy early on in their college life.

Far Eastern University

In a story by CNN Philippines, Far Eastern University (FEU) Director for Guidance and Counseling Sheila Marie Hocson stated that freshman students are being educated about how to recognize symptoms of mental health issues. Aside from mental health, they are also opening discourse about sexual harassment, bullying, and HIV awareness. In addition, Hocson mentioned that a referral system is put into place within the school, where peers and faculty members alike may refer a student to their office if they display signs like absenteeism, lack of energy, abusive behavior, sleepiness in class, lack of personal hygiene, low self-esteem, or poor academic performance. They also offer to refer students to psychiatrists should they identify telltale signs of mental health concerns.

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University of the Philippines

In 2018, the University of the Philippines Diliman officially hired their first resident psychiatrist. The University Health Service (UHS) only had psychiatric consultants prior to hiring Dr. Dinah Palmera P. Nadera for the part-time position. According to Dr. Nadera, the most common concerns she has been consulted by students for were persistent anxiety, depressed mood, and lack of focus and concentration, among others. As part of the UHS medical staff, Dr. Nadera will be offering her services for free to students and to the academic and non-academic staff of the university.

How to help someone with depression

We consulted with Alyda Yasmin A. Keh, MA, RPsy, a consulting psychologist at the Ateneo Bulatao Center for Psychological Services, for guidelines on how to talk to a friend or classmate with depression.

Let them know that they are not alone. The last thing we want is to make someone struggling with depression feel like they don’t have anyone to approach. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and what thoughts are running through their minds.  This will allow you to know if they are thinking of harming themselves so that you can get them professional help. If the person is not ready to talk, respect their privacy and let them know that they can talk about it when they feel more ready.

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Reassure them that they aren’t alone by telling them that they can text or call you should they feel like they want to talk.  Sometimes, you might take time to respond but assure them that you will reach them once you are able to. Do not make promises you cannot fulfill.

Check up on them regularly. More than telling the person that you’re there for them, show them that you really are. Ask them how they’re doing from time to time. Doing so reassures them that you’re thinking of them and that you’re staying true to your word.

Just remember, it’s not just about talking, but also about listening. Sometimes, the fact that someone is there to listen to your concerns is already comforting enough. Remember to be non-judgmental. You are there to hear them out, not to tell them what they should think or feel. You don’t have to respond with solutions—doing so might be counter-productive and won’t help the person at all. Instead, just simply hear them out and pay attention to what they’re saying.

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 Encourage them to talk to a professional. At the end of the day, there’s only so much we can do for someone dealing with mental health concerns. It’s still best to seek and receive professional help. What you can do is to perhaps recommend trusted professionals you may know of or offer to go with them to appointments if they want company.

Depression as the “invisible illness”

Depression is real, but it isn’t always easily recognizable in a person, which is why many still misconstrue the condition as something that is “all in the head.” It may seem like all is well with that bubbly classmate who always makes the funniest remarks during class, but deep inside, they may be struggling with depressive episodes that manifest in subtle and different ways. This shows how important it is to pay attention to the people around us, as well as to our own internal mental state.

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If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, here are some important numbers and websites in the Philippines:

Crisis Line (for non-sectarian, non-judgmental telephone counseling):

Landline: (02) 893-7603

Globe Duo: 0917-8001123 / 0917-5067314

Sun Double Unlimited: 0922-8938944 / 0922-3468776

www.in-touch.org

Center for Family Ministries (for spiritual counseling):

www.cefam.ph

Landline: (02) 426-4289 to 92

Ateneo Bulatao Center

Landine: (02) 426-5982

E-mail: bulataocenter.ls@ateneo.edu

Online resources for mental health and suicide prevention:

www.suicide.org

www.iasp.info

www.afsp.org

www.befrienders.org

www.imalive.org

www.thehopeline.com

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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Cold Food

The most thrilling and delightful moment of any school day is opening up your baon during breaks. There is always so much excitement in unveiling your homemade meal and snacks housed inside matching heat-insulating containers. Because preparing packed meals is an age-old tradition of showing parental love, loved ones pour effort into curating a nutritious meal accompanied by a selection of side dishes, desserts, and beverages daily; it reminds us that we are being taken care of, even from far away.

Baon plays a significant role in a Filipino childhood. Almost every Filipino child comes to school with baon made especially for them by their parents or household helpers. Even Filipinos in the labor force continue to bring baon for varying reasons: to save money, recycle leftovers, cater to personal taste, or attend to special needs. Nonetheless, eating your baon is a heart-warming experience that allows Filipinos to bring a piece of home along with them wherever they go.

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Even other cultures practice making packed lunch. In Japan, mothers create bento--Japanese meals in partitioned boxes. Because of the popularity of bento, trends have emerged, such as the Kyaraben, or character-themed bento. Naturally, Japanese parents and students began competing for who had the cutest and tastiest bento, and this is similar to what I have witnessed in my own childhood. I remember seeing my classmates sharing their snacks and lunches. They would compare and boast about their parents' or yayas’ cooking. In my case, I never had the chance to join in the competition or indulge in homemade cooking. Up until this day, I have never brought any baon to school.

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For a long time, I envied others. As trivial or petty as it may seem, not having baon became a problem for my grade school self. During that time, I had to sit in a separate cafeteria away from my friends because the kids who bought food were assigned to sit elsewhere. You could consider me spoiled, but I wanted to experience something most kids did. I had food at home, so what made it so hard to bring some with me to school?

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Now that I am on my final year in high school I have come to realize the benefits of purchasing my own food. Since I spent on food everyday, I learned to budget my allowance at a young age. Over the years, I learned to practice self-control whenever I wanted to eat more greasy fries and drink sweetened beverages. I have tasted the strangest viands at the school cafeterias, and I have repeatedly satiated myself over my latest delicious discoveries. Despite the struggles, I am thankful that I have never had baon because of what I have learned. Not to mention, I never had to experience eating cold food.

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Choosing between dreams and practicality is never easy. My CETs season just ended with the release of the UPCAT results. Anxious as I logged on the website, I started to think about what would happen if I didn't pass UP. Ever since I was six years old, I fixated on the idea that I will become an iska, serving the country and studying at my dream school, which is UP. I strived and studied hard for the UPCAT, sacrificing a lot of things like hang-outs and gala weekends for reviews.

Throughout my CETs journey, I started seeing myself studying only in UP, and while there were no results yet, my friends and I already started planning our lives around the fact that we're gonna study in UP. It was a big deal for me, my friends and my family that I get the chance to study in UP since it's so far from my hometown which is Benguet, and better yet, it's a very well known university.

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January 2020 came and universities started releasing CETs results. I was expecting my DCAT and ACET results that month. I passed DCAT but brushed it off because even though I liked the school, I never really saw myself studying there. Same thoughts with Ateneo, since it never really crossed my mind that I might study in ADMU. In fact, Ateneo was never really a choice for me, I only took it just to have another choice in case I failed the UPCAT. I also applied for financial aid not because I was really planning on studying there, but more of "para lang sure na may college ako". I know it's a bad thing but they were just my back-up schools because my main goal was really UP.

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One Friday afternoon, ACET results came out. I passed, managed to get a scholarship, and in that moment, my plans just started to crumble.

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Seeing that I got a 100% tuition and fees discount, free dorm fees, and an additional book allowance got me into considering studying to Ateneo. Suddenly, I got torn between UP, my dream school, and Ateneo, which offers so much more.

As the months passed, and after talking to my parents, my plans and decisions got more jumbled and messy. I still wanted to go to UP even if there were no results yet but Ateneo offering so much would mean a lesser burden to my parents in terms of finances.

Even though my parents told me that they'll support me no matter where I choose to go, the practicality that Ateneo offers in terms of finances was not an easy thing to waive. Sometimes I would laugh at the fact that I'd spend less on a private school than on a state university. Talking to my friends helped somehow, but they also have various opinions about the two universities. I managed to tell myself to hold off the problem until UPCAT results get released, and so I did.

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UP released the UPCAT results and seeing that I passed made me scream and cry, literally. At that moment, all I was thinking was that I passed my dream school and I'm officially a QC college student.

My parents were so proud of me even though they got scared because I screamed, but ultimately, they were happy for me. The next day, I sat down, stared at my UPCAT and ACET results, and told myself that I needed to decide. This was the hardest part. I tried deciding using the pros and cons method but it didn't really work. Talking to my parents also didn't help because they'd support me either way, so their judgement was not a factor at all. I also had the same course in both schools so that wasn't a big help. I was 99% close to letting go of my dream university and decide to go to Ateneo.

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I weighed options and Ateneo was the cheaper and more practical option. I also started to see myself studying as a blue eagle, roaming around the campus etc. And financially, I didn't need to worry much except for food. At that point, I started to really like the idea of going to Ateneo more than studying in UP. But then, as the weeks went by, the Ateneo Plan started to lose my interest.

I realized that studying in Ateneo would be a great opportunity, but not something that will really make me happy. The finances and all would be so much better but I wouldn't be happy and content, and I felt that Ateneo couldn't give me everything that I wanted and needed. Then a light bulb lit up.

As I was imagining myself at UP, I ultimately felt that happiness and content that I didn't feel with Ateneo. I realized that, if I didn't study in UP, I know later in my life, I would regret it. I would regret not choosing my dream university because I didn't choose what would make me happy.

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In short, I chose my dream over practicality. I know that I would be successful in both tracks, but I simply chose my dream because it is where I'm happier and more content. Besides, we can make our dreams practical but not all the time can the practical choice equate to our dreams. So to those having a hard time choosing between dreams and practicality, weigh it out and always remember to put yourself and your happiness first. And of course, choose the choice that you know you'll not regret later on.

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