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Is it really all in the mind?

On mental health and depression in the Philippines


By Dr. Kaycee Reyes

Feeling blue? Down in the dumps? It’s normal to be sad once in a while, but when that sinking feeling goes on for weeks or months, accompanied with irritability, fatigue, feeling of helplessness or hopelessness, suicidal tendencies, and so on, these may be signs of depression. Globally, depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As much as 300 million people around the world suffer from it—this is 18 percent higher than in the previous decade (2005 to 2015). This is alarming not only because it poses a lifelong risk for individuals who suffer from it, with incidences of recurrence or relapse which are common, but because it also affects productivity, with an estimated $1 trillion lost in productivity annually.5

How about in the Philippines? Touted as one of the happiest country in the world, does this mean depression rates in the country are lower than our peer countries? Not really. In fact, the Philippines has the highest number of depressed people in Southeast Asia. The National Statistics Office (NSO) reports that mental illness is the third most common form of disability in the country, after visual and hearing disabilities. It is reported by the Global Burden of Disease Study in 2015 that 3.3 million Filipinos suffer from depressive disorders, with suicide rates in 2.5 males and 1.7 females per 100,000 of the Filipino population according to the National Center for Mental Health. Most suicides are among males in their 20s. Moreover, while the suicide rates are the lowest among other ASEAN countries, this does not take into account some unrecorded incidences, especially since talking about mental health is still a stigma among Filipinos.

Are we doing enough? According to Senator Risa Hontiveros, one in five Filipinos suffers from a mental disorder. Moreover, suicide rates in the country have risen in 20 years, from 1992 to 2012. The lack of psychiatrists in country only adds to the dilemma of treating or counseling these individuals, with only one in every 250,000 Filipinos, according to the Department of Health (DOH). What is more alarming is the fact that the Philippines is only one of the few countries without a mental health bill for the longest time. This is why the Comprehensive Mental Health Act, now on its way to becoming a law, has been created to give rights to individuals suffering from mental illness, covering protection from abuse and discrimination, access to right mental health care and facilities among others, recognition of other forms of treatment, implementing basic mental health education and awareness in schools, including having health care areas and facilities that are sanitary, safe, and with privacy. The DOH also is set to improve and upgrade its current mental health facilities in the country, including having psychiatric clinics for emergency cases in hospitals of local government units, and training general practitioners, rural doctors, health officers, and psychologists to give mental first aid and address the lack of psychiatrists in the country. Establishing a law on mental health and the improvement on facilities are a big step for the Philippines in overcoming the stigma on mental health, especially when these individuals need support the most.

If they do not think of it as baliw, Filipinos think of depression sufferers as only a feeling, not an illness. This is why sufferers are still ashamed to seek help or talk about it, which is what they need the most. If you know someone or you are having feelings of prolonged sadness, helplessness, tiredness, among others, please seek professional health. Remember that it’s okay, and that you are not alone. Fortunately, a lot of Filipinos are becoming more aware now, especially parents, about mental health. With the support not only of the government, but also of local celebrities who have come forward, Filipinos can fight the stigma and talk about mental health. After all, good health isn’t only in the physical, it also is in the mind.

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