By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

Youth mental health, pandemic and more participative solutions

“Not caring about many things does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different” Mark Manson

During a recent hearing on the implementation of the Mental Health Act of 2017 conducted by the Senate Committee on Health, several figures from the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) painted a disturbing picture on the state of mental health of Filipinos especially among the younger generation. According to the said data in 2019, NCMH receive 2,413 mental health related calls and 712 suicide related calls. In 2020, there was a surge of 2,841 suicide related and 8,176 mental health related calls. In 2021, the suicide related calls doubled to 5,167 while the mental health related calls rose to 9,730. During the school year 2021 to 2022, there was a shocking 2,147 attempted suicides and 404 actual death by suicide.

In connection with these findings, the Senate has called for more health care providers and more facilities to be established. One senator, in particular, focused on increasing proper and efficient budget utilization in government agencies tasked to implement mental health programs.

The Covid-19 pandemic was cited as the principal cause in the decline of mental health of Filipinos especially the millennials and Gen Z. Although recent easing of restrictions and the resumption of face to face classes and activities have helped decrease this number, many health professionals still say that the lingering effects on mental health are still a cause of worry. Many studies still point to the fact that “today’s youth have poorer mental well-being than in the last few decades.”

These numbers are based on reports of people seeking help. A recent study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiatives, in cooperation the Philippine Psychiatric Association, revealed that many Filipinos do not report mental health problems or even seek help because of the perceived cost of treatment and the stigma attached to mental health. Thirty-one (31) percent of those surveyed in this study stated that they are afraid of being seen as “crazy” or weak (30 percent) if they seek help or even report their mental health problems.

With a 97.2 percent increase in reports of extreme depression among the youth, these barriers show that increasing health care providers and facilities for mental health problems alone may not be sufficient to stem the tide of this rise of mental health problems. There is a call for more creative, innovative and participative solutions to the problem.

Family and friends are important in this fight against the pandemic. People should be more aware of the mental health situation of those around them. There are many doctors in social media who have sounded the alarm on mental health and have provided hours of authentic content on how to spot mental health problems. Doc Willie Ong alone, the famous doctor vlogger, has provided dozens of hours of short videos on spotting signs of mental health. These short health videos are the best template for a social media campaign on mental health that targets a populace with short attention spans. More people should be encouraged to watch these videos and to learn more about this growing threat afflicting our youth.

Teachers, also, should have the basic tools and opportunity to be force multipliers in the war against depression among the youth. Teachers should be encouraged and enabled to spot the warning signs of depression and other mental health problems of their students. They should be cognizant of the tools and resources available to help these students and refer them accordingly. As frontliners against this new epidemic, teachers must take time to study the tools available to them and participate in the numerous enabling programs.  

It is these new “social media influencers,” however, who have the greatest capacity and opportunity to help greatly in this fight against the mental health pandemic. With their millions of followers and ability to influence the youth, they are in the best position to help their listeners who are suffering from depression and similar maladies.

There is a book by Mark Manson entitled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**ck.” Its basic premise is that people care about too many things and end up stressing themselves needlessly. The youth clearly care about so many things like how they are perceived and accepted and this adds to their stress. Perhaps, a movement to promote this attitude of not caring about measuring up all the time and other counter intuitive thoughts, can be led by the influencers in an effort to change prevailing harmful thought patterns of the youth and start a massive social engineering effort.

This is just my oblique observation.


Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

ATTY. GILBERTO LAUENGCO, J.D. is a lawyer, educator, political strategist, government consultant, Lego enthusiast, and the director of CAER Think Tank. He is a Former Vice Chairman of MECO, Special Assistant of NFA and City Administrator among others. His broad experience has molded his unique approach to issues analysis which he calls the oblique observation.