Addressing the mental health crisis pervasive among Filipino youth

Story written with Jules Vivas

“The youth are the most vulnerable to mental illness because of the pressure and the changing times,” psychiatrist Dr. Katrina Lising-Enriquez tells us at her clinic at The Medical City. “This is very relevant now, especially because of the peak in suicide rates.”

While the Philippines has no comprehensive, nationwide survey on the prevalence of mental health illness, there has been an alarming rise in suicide rates, particularly in adolescents and young adults.

“Suicide prevention is given a low priority in most Western Pacific countries due to competing health problems, stigma, and poor understanding of the condition,” writes Maria Theresa Redaniel, May Antonnette Lebanan-Dalida, and David Gunnell in their 2011 study of suicide in the Philippines. “Increases in incidence and relatively high rates in adolescents and young adults point to the importance of focused suicide prevention programs.”

The researchers contrast the Philippines with patterns seen in most countries where rates tend to increase with age. While there are various speculations and theories people have posed, including mention of social media usage, it is generally agreed that further investigation is required.

“When should young people seek help?” we ask.

She quickly replies, “When sleep and appetite are getting affected. When work or school is getting affected. Do not wait for having suicidal thoughts.”

Dr. Lising-Enriquez compares the work she currently does in the Philippines with her time in Canada during her fellowship. She notes that while in Canada she would almost never speak to the parents of her patients, in the Philippines she always does, and it’s both good and bad.

“The good thing is that it comes with a support system, that the patients are not dealing with their issues alone. The bad thing is that it could become more challenging,” she adds. “I have patients who want to be on medication because they are suffering, but their parents don’t want them to be.”

Over the past few years, there have been greater strides to lessen the stigma against talking about mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. After decades of mental health bills proposed in the legislature, with our country lagging behind most in implementing mental health laws, in June 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Mental Health Act, which recognizes the fundamental human right of Filipinos to mental health services.

Unfortunately, there is still a lack of a facilities and support systems in place on the local and national levels to address these concerns. It is only recently that Filipinos have recognized the need for mental health care professionals. Prior to this, there were fewer and fewer individuals entering this field of expertise thinking there was no demand for it. Furthermore, many qualified and trained specialists emigrate to more developed, English-speaking countries, contributing to the low ratio of mental health workers per person in the Philippines.

With the new Mental Health Act and other initiatives, public and private, ongoing to address the mental health crisis, particularly among Filipino youths, there are various ways individuals and their support groups can work to deal with anxiety and stress even before they seek psychiatric help.

By maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise, individuals could already see drastic changes in their mood and general outlook on life. Something often overlooked is mindfulness, yoga, or meditation.

“That is a great complement to avoiding anxiety and depression,” Dr. Lising-Enriquez continuously stresses the importance of mindfulness exercises as a coping mechanism for young people dealing with anxiety, stress, or depression, particularly because it can be done before, during, and after they are engaged in professional therapy or on medication. “I think this is very pervasive among all of us, our minds are always active. Our minds naturally tend to go to the past, or worry about the future, and that is why we are stressed. We forget to be in the moment.”

‘Don’t let your struggle become your identity.’


As many people know and will have experienced, dealing with mental health issues is a lifelong struggle that requires a support system and routine that might go beyond a mental health service provider. With the advent of technology, however, help has become more accessible than before. One effective alternative to conventional mental care is called TeleMental Health, also referred to as E-health or Telemedicine. In the simplest explanation, TeleMental Healthcare is online therapy—the usage of technology and the internet as a means to provide psychological counseling and support, usually via e-mails, video conferences, online chat, or phone calls.

In the country, the Mind Care Club (MCC), a network of mental health counselors, psychiatrists, physicians, and nurses in the Philippines, launched the first Filipino TeleMental Health service through its website Its TeleMental Health counseling is usually done over video conference or online chat, and allows access to cost-effective mental health treatments to Filipinos. MCC’s session, compared to those of senior psychiatrists that normally cost at least ₱3000 per hour, only goes for ₱800 to ₱2500 per hour.

For those struggling with mental illness but can’t totally afford therapy, there are myriad free mental health apps easily available to smartphone users that can be downloaded in a matter of minutes. These apps could address certain mental health issues or even help manage stress levels in your daily lives:


A tools and insights app designed to “help you feel better.” It supplies daily goals to improve your mood fitness, and has actionable data for you to determine what brings you up or down.


The app, formerly called Pacifica, offers clinically validated techniques and support to help you relieve symptoms. It is believed to be the best for relieving stress. Sanvello teaches mindfulness skills and provides mood and health tracking tools that can be used to improve mental and physical health.

Mood Mission

As its name suggests, it is a ‘mission’ based app that improves mood and coping skills.

Talkspace Counseling & Therapy

Among the leading online therapy apps, Talkspace connects you with a licensed mental health professional so you can receive therapy from your digital devices.


Established by Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, this app particularly specializes in meditation and mindfulness. Some of the things that can be learned through Headspace are mindfulness and cognitive diffusion, breathing exercises, meditation practice, tips for increased relaxation, and concentration.

CPT Coach

This is targeted at individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who are in active treatment with a trained Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) therapist. It offers a great deal of information about PTSD symptoms and a step-by-step, session-by-session approach to following the assessments that correspond with each of week of CPT treatment.


A fun self-guided app that uses science-based games and activities to help reduce stress, build resilience, and overcome negative thoughts.

Depression CBT Self-Help Guide

An app made to counter depression aimed at educating users on depression and strategies for managing symptoms.

If the anxiety, stress, or depression you are experiencing begins to take over and affect your personal or professional life, or your sleep or appetite, you may need to seek professional help.