Depression and its fatal consequence - suicide - were given attention on World Health Day 2017 in the Philippines.

The World Health Organization says depression has become the second leading contributor to ill health. And it affects people of all ages and from all walks of life globally. Studies have also found that people will undergo depression at some point in their life.

WHO defines depression as a common mental disorder that interferes with daily life; it is associated with sadness, loss of interest, feelings of guilt, low self-worth, disturbed sleep, appetite, tiredness and poor concentration. It can be long-lasting or recurrent.

“If not properly addressed, it may lead to suicide that may eventually end to death,” said the Department of Health (DOH) in a press statement.

World Health Day, celebrated on April 7, marks the founding anniversary of the UN organization on health. To commemorate the occasion, the agency would gather to discuss a global health concern, and this year’s theme is depression with the ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign.

Locally, the DOH expanded on the theme and made it, “It’s OK not to be OK. Express yourself. Let’s Talk.”

Statistics on suicide and depression

WHO estimates that suicide associated with depression is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-29.

In the Philippines, DOH’s National Center for Mental Health noted that the suicide rate for men is 2.5 for every 100,000 population and 1.7 for women.

In the 2,500 suicide cases recorded in 2012, more than 2,000 were male, and about 500 were female.

There could be more cases underreported due to stigma, or fear of people with suicidal ideation to be judged.

Though there is a low suicide rate as compared with other ASEAN countries, depression is still very much persistent. A local survey by Perlas, Tronco et al noted that 5.3 percent of those surveyed were suffering from depression. Another report indicated 4.5 million Filipinos could be afflicted with depression.

Worldwide, the depression prevalence rate ranges from 2.6 to 29.5 percent.

Furthermore, a rising depression trend is seen among the Filipino elderly. A populous province in the country, Rizal, scored a 6.6 percent rate of depression using the Geriatric Depression Scale, which indicated that depression is relatively present even in healthy communities, according to Business Mirror.

Depression’s new face: social media bashing

“The new cause of depression on social media is bashing. Some people have difficulty coping with bashing and we want to protect them, especially the adolescents because they are vulnerable,” Dr Eric Tayag, DOH spokesperson, said during a briefing on WHD.

Dr Tayag noted that a social media backlash could cause an adolescent to lose connections, - which could mean communication - and this may eventually develop into depression.

A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health examined 264 adolescent regarding their use of social media and negative encounters enrolled under the New England Family Study (NEFS).


About 85 percent claimed to have had a negative experience, while 63 percent said they had multiple negative experiences. Overall, the study found that those who experienced negative social media encounters have a 2.3 percent higher risk of depression compared to those who have not.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, for her part, cautioned the public against indifference to depression sufferers, “Let’s not resort to indifference. That, I think, is a society that will harbor increasing rates of depression.”

She added that this is likely to nurture a culture of isolation. Instead, Filipinos must be supportive of those around them in times of need.

Secretary Ubial also noted that a telltale sign of depression is noticing people who don’t function ‘as they normally do.’

“According to the psychiatrists and experts, you can detect depression by looking at the usual habits of a person. If he or she is no longer able to carry out ordinary, daily tasks, then that’s a tell-tale sign of depression,” she was quoted as saying.

Communication as prevention and defense

“Depression and anxiety are the most common psychiatric disorders in the world. It’s often unrecognized and untreated. People - the public - should be keen and sensitive to the early signs and symptoms or manifestation of the disorder so early intervention can be made,” Dr Reynaldo Lesaca, a psychiatrist and consultant at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI), told MIMS when asked for a comment.

He agreed that the, “most serious [and] dangerous consequences is self-harm or suicide.” Dr Lecsaca maintained that once identified, patients need to seek help.

“The role of two-way communication as an effective strategy and response to address depression must always be established. The good news is that depression can both be prevented and treated,” according to the DOH.

Further, the Health department emphasized that a thorough understanding of what depression means and how to respond to it could reduce the stigma attached to the condition. It prompts people to come forward and seek medical treatment.

“Each one of us has a role to play in addressing mental health challenges in the country today. I therefore, encourage everyone to do his or her part to arrest this problem by showing compassion and understanding to the vulnerable members of the society,” said Secretary Ubial.

Mental health funding

Earlier in her term, Secretary Ubial expressed that mental health will not be sidelined this time. Of the 2017 DOH budget plan, Php100 million has been allocated to purchase mental health drugs, and Php1 billion to be used in upgrading or in the construction of mental health facilities - a first for the health department.

There are 12 mental health facilities currently in the country which can handle around 200 to 300 patients.

Because there is only one psychiatrist for every 250,000 in the population, [the ideal ratio is one specialist for every 50,000], the DOH will also look into strengthening community mental health approach in the city and municipal levels to help in the manpower and prevent patients from progressing and becoming institutionalized.

Secretary Ubial also expressed that all DOH hospitals as well as some LGUs, must have a 10-bed acute care facility for psychiatric patients.

Hopeline project

DOH launched the Hopeline project to connect depressive and suicidal patients to mental health care providers. This is a phone-based crisis 24/7 hotline.

Since its launch midway in 2016, it has received 3,479 calls. Of the calls, 605 were due to depression, while 496 asked for information on depression and suicide; 479 called because of stress, while 111 outrightly expressed being suicidal.

Though most of the calls were characterized as low-risk, DOH expressed its intention to further improve the Hopeline to track patients going for a consultation.

The HOPELINE numbers are 804-4673 fand 0917-558-4673. MIMS

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