Ubial: Don't be indifferent to people with depression

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine health officials placed the spotlight on depression as the country joined the international celebration of World Health Day on Friday, April 7.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said it's "human nature" for Filipinos to be "aware" of people around them and to support them in their time of need.

"So 'wag 'yung dedma lang tayo. That, I think, is a society that will harbor increasing rates of depression – 'yung dinededma natin 'yung ating mga kasama or nagkakaroon tayo ng parang isolation din from them," she said in a press conference on Friday.

(Let's not be indifferent. That, I think is a society that will harbor increasing rates of depression – when we're indifferent to the people around us, or when we isolate ourselves from them.)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people living with depression has increased by 18% from 2005 to 2015. Health Spokesperson Eric Tayag said this translates to 322 million people living with depression in 2015, as compared to 280 million in 2005.

The WHO said depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

In the Philippines, depression was the reason for 605 out of the 3,479 calls received by the HOPELINE Project in 2016. (READ: DOH to create hotline for mental health assistance)

The 24/7 crisis support hotline for mental health assistance also received 496 calls from people who needed information on depression and suicide.

Another 479 called because of stress or possible depression, while 111 people expressed being suicidal.

"And it is categorized by our responders as high-, moderate-, and low-risk for suicide. Many of the callers are low-risk actually, and the high-risk is 309 only. So we hope to further improve the facilities of our HOPELINE so that we can actually trace if the patients went for consultation or followed the advice of our responders," Ubial said, explaining that the function of the hotline, for now, is limited to answering the calls and questions of individuals.

Social media and depression

Ubial also explained the tell-tale signs of depression, such as not being able to eat properly.

"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 said.

Tayag, meanwhile, talked about the "new face" of depression as a result of bashing on social media.

"Some people maybe have difficulty coping with such bashing that's why we want to protect especially the adolescents, they are very vulnerable at their ages. So social media is a big contributor. Experts are now looking into the contribution of social media to depression," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"Because social media, it's the way to connect to other people, but it can also backlash, you lose your connection because you experience bashing, and losing connection is one sure way of getting into depression," Tayag added.

Budget for mental health

The DOH has allocated P100 million ($2 million)* from its 2017 budget for mental health drugs, and about P1 billion ($20.04 million) for the upgrading and development of mental health facilities in the country.

"So, it's the first time in the Department of Health's history that we are budgeting more than a billion for our mental health facilities and our mental health program," Ubial revealed on Friday.

Government is also scaling up its community-based mental health program to the rest of the country, because "as much as possible, we don't want institutionalization of our mental health patients," according to Ubial.

This entails building the capacity of city and municipal health officers to address mental health patients, especially since the country only has one psychiatrist for every 250,000 population – far from the ideal ratio of one psychiatrist to 50,000 population.

Ubial also talked about plans to transfer the National Center for Mental Health from Mandaluyong to somewhere "outside Metro Manila," but the health department has yet to present its proposal to the National Economic and Development Authority.

“We want to ensure that the facility is upgraded. Medyo luma na kasi 'yung nasa Mandaluyong (The one in Mandaluyong is a bit old already) and also it is in a very urban setting," she explained.

The country has a total of 12 mental health facilities.

Aside from these big facilities that can each handle about 200 to 300 patients, Ubial said all DOH hospitals and some LGU hospitals should have an acute 10-bed capacity psychiatric unit that can provide emergency treatment for mental patients.

Mental health is among Ubial's major priorities as health secretary, but the Philippines has yet to pass a mental health law. – Rappler.com

*US$1 = P49.91


Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.