October 11, 2022
MANILA — Nearly one in five young Filipinos have considered ending their life, according to findings of a nationwide survey released by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) on Monday.
The UPPI’s 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS5) also said that close to almost 1.5 million youth had tried ending their life in 2021 — that is, 7.5 percent of youth. That is an increase of 4.5 percentage points over the 3 percent recorded in 2013 — or 574,000 young people who tried ending their life.
What is more concerning is that the number of youth who experienced “suicide ideation” more than doubled between 2013 and 2021, and the corresponding percentages among female youth are twice as high as that of young males. This reverses the trend that was observed between 2002 and 2013.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says suicide ideation is a term used to describe thoughts, wishes, preoccupations, and contemplations with death and suicide.
YAFS5 is the fifth round in a series of the institute’s surveys since 1982. For this 2021 round, the respondents were 10,949 randomly selected Filipino teens and young adults aged 15 to 24.
The study examined mental health indicators — depressive symptoms and suicidal experiences — which it has tracked since 2002.
Youth who felt depressive symptoms substantially increased from 2013 to 2021, with the share of those who often felt loneliness, sadness, and being disliked by other people almost doubling over the period.
Incidentally, the UPPI said data collection for YAFS5 was conducted in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when physical and social isolation might have gravely affected young people’s disposition.
Take the case of Geraldine, 21, a UP student, who said that before the pandemic, she spent days in and out walking with friends, bird-watching, and going to cafes.
Once UP turned to remote online learning in 2020, her days grew bleak and endless. The sunset scenery in UP’s Sunken Garden was replaced with a laptop screen. The UP campus was shrunk into the four corners of her room’s enclosure.
As her depression worsened, Geraldine was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In her worst episodes, she would think that the world was better off without her.
She is far from alone.
The UPPI said six in 10 of those who thought of committing suicide did not reach out to anyone about it.
The few who did so mostly sought help from close friends or peers (25 percent of suicide ideators), followed by parents or guardians (7 percent), and relatives (5 percent).
Among those who acted on their thoughts, seeking professional help was highly unpopular (4 percent); only one in every 10 is aware of any suicide prevention program or service.
“These alarming findings indicate that today’s youth have poorer mental well-being than in the last few decades. The reasons are many and complex, but multiple challenges, including severe understaffing, the cost of consultation and treatment, and the stigmatization of mental health problems confront mental health care in the country,” the UPPI said in a statement.
The UPPI released its findings about mental health on World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, a yearly observance of the WHO. It joined WHO’s global call for making mental health and well-being for all a priority in all sectors of society.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Japhet de Leon attributed the most recent spike to the pandemic restrictions.
“The lockdown, the lack of interpersonal relationships, the inability to make friends, the problems with how (academic) lessons were delivered took its toll,” said De Leon.
The youth’s social environment is also a leading cause of the increase, said Dr. Dinah Nadera of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health Center for Research and Innovation.
“The many challenges and expectations on teenagers are because of technology,” said Nadera. “There is a lot of stimulus that they have to absorb that they cannot process because it’s overwhelming.”
Geraldine said she would isolate herself and stay off social media to avoid the information overload that would trigger her.
This absence of connection holds teenagers back from freely reaching out and seeking help for their mental health struggles.
“Feeling nila na ‘my peers can understand me, and my parents cannot,’ that’s why they would rather open up to their peers where they feel comfortable,” said De Leon.
On top of the isolation, young adults also find it difficult to seek help due to the lack and inaccessibility of basic mental health facilities and resources.
Geraldine had to take on side and part-time jobs during her university leave just to ease her parents’ expense of paying for her medicines and therapy sessions.
“Lack of access to mental health services is a risk factor to having mental health problems, particularly suicide. Only a few cases will be prevented,” said Nadera.
As of now, the country’s primary intervention is “reactive,” she added. Prevention and promotion are necessary for prompt and efficient mitigation of this mental health crisis.