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.
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:
- Depressed mood
- Disruption in sleeping patterns (suffering from either inability to sleep or excessive sleepiness)
- Decreased interest or pleasure
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Loss of energy or fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking, or indecisiveness
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Psychomotor disturbance
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Center for Family Ministries (for spiritual counseling):
Landline: (02) 426-4289 to 92
Ateneo Bulatao Center
Landine: (02) 426-5982
Online resources for mental health and suicide prevention: