What You Need To Know About Depression And The Country’s Mental Health State
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:
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these sheets that exactly remind me of how I gushed in between my pillow and space you filled in the longing of my burned sorrow put smile to my sober face just like how a three year old receive her lollipop
i searched you everywhere and here you are laying down beside me in my imagination the walls that our screens built a boundary and an obvious message that says i can never have you because you wear clerical shirt and obviously you loved someone else before me
oh god, do I really want this forbidden love? that only exist in my imagination? that only exist through my words? would you, meine liebling, notice me and my art one second? because I am dying to say I love you.
A Simple Learner Who's a Great Pretender
Maybe I'm just a learner, not a weirdo. A learner that knows how to listen and pretend. A simple learner who's a great pretender. Pretending to be slightly dumb enough not to be judged and criticized by those who do not appreciate my existence. We surround ourselves with people who's levels are either beyond or below our intellectual behavior, because as for reality, people may use you either for their success or your downfall. Since then, people tend to judge someone who has an intellect with things they shouldn't be. Making them a criticizer, and most of all, calling them weird.
Honestly, I'm one of this "weirdo" who actually loves to learn things, and for the record, I'm bullied and stressed out for making myself not to learn more and go with the flow to dumbness I had. Have you ever feel being assigned to some task where you know every process to make it easier and faster to finish but turns out to hesitate to voice out because some of your mates put themselves in charge. There are times where I know what to do, what to say, or how to react, but kept myself silent and pretend not to know anything that may help us. Maybe it's a good thing to just go with their ideas and learn from their perspectives, but sometimes you can't control it and says something, and once again called to be a weirdo and let you finish the work by yourself.
It's annoying that you only know one process yet they gave you the whole work and let you finish it by yourself because they insist that "MAGALING KA DIBA?". It's not your fault being an intellectual person, knowing such things that may help you to pursue your dreams, and have the basic knowledge about something. You don't need to know everything, just the basics. And as for those people who do not appreciate your existence, let them be and continue what's the best for you. In some cases, you'll be annoyed by this but most of the time you'll be thankful for it. Not for now but maybe later. Just be yourself either a weirdo, a great pretender, or a simple learner, and always remember to lower your voice and behavior because no one loves that.
Just be a great pretender not to hear any runts and be a good learner that appreciates everything. It's out of nowhere thoughts of mine, but simply I leave you this my favorite life quotation; "Don't introduce yourself, Let your success introduce you"
Dear me in six years, I wonder how life will treat you when you’re already 26 years old. Will you be financially stable? Will you be working in an advertising agency while pursuing everything about the arts? Will you be doing freelancing and living in a condo by then? I don’t know since things are very uncertain. I hope by the time you graduate from college and face the real meaning of the world, you’ll know what the real purpose of doing and living in the art will be.
I know it’s been so tough ever since you turned 20 but that’s how life works, I guess. There will be a lot of hopes and trials, breakdowns, and breakthroughs but I have high hopes of you becoming the better version of yourself. You always do, though. You were never a quitter. Making decisions is getting harder and harder as you grow but I hope it doesn’t make you stop doing what you really love to do. You will face different people with different perspectives. You will feel like a stranger once again, it’s like you were back in your freshmen year. It’s going to be tougher than you’ve expected but you can do it. I believe you can.
Most of the time, people's perception of us as a strong person makes us feel that we are not entitled to be vulnerable because they might be disappointed for seeing our weak spots. And so when we are hurting, we are often scared of extreme emotions and so bury our feelings. We deny them, trying to avoid the pain we feel.
But by doing that, we are just allowing it to come back to us and haunt us. And when it comes back, it might be stronger and it will be harder for us to get over it than when we faced them first. I realized it just now that facing those emotions will scare them until they're gone. The saying 'Let it hurt until it hurts no more' goes true. Admitting your pain to yourself doesn't make you weak. It only proves that you are strong enough to acknowledge such extreme emotions without avoiding them. We are humans and it's okay if we hurt sometimes.