DOH Caraga seeks research to address depression, mental health issues among students in the region

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Caraga DOH mental health forum
Dr Cesar Cassion, Assistant Regional Director of DOH–Caraga (2nd from left) points out the need for further research on the prevalence of depression among students in the Region. Photographed by Erwin Mascariñas, News5-InterAksyon

Butuan City – Department of Health (DOH) officials in Caraga Region intend to look at conducting research into the prevalence of depression among high school and college students, which tend to contribute to suicidal tendencies.

Data from police reports on suicide cases point out that a number of those succumbing to suicide deaths were aged between 13 and 18 years old, and mostly college students.

“Right now we admit that we don’t have data. We hope research can be conducted that would lead to a viable plan of action to address the issue. The results from the study would be a great help in formulating our interventions, as needed,” said Dr. Cesar Cassion, Assistant Regional Director for DOH – Caraga

Cassion pointed out that DOH could partner with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and stakeholders in the academe for possible research initiatives related to mental health.

Dr. Marjorie Calud, a psychiatrist at the DOH Caraga Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Center, explained the need for such data, “which would be essential in guiding and informing the identification and monitoring of cases, since mental health issues like depression have a high probability of reoccurrence, depending on the stress factors that a patient is exposed to. Those who have recovered after initial treatment should continue to be monitored so that quick intervention can be applied where such a need arises.”

Calud explained that the stigma of depression should also be addressed.

“The misconceptions about depression, and how people perceive the condition, should be addressed because most of the time people tend to brush it aside as a weak state of mind and so ‘you can get through it by being strong,’ but sometimes this will only make it worst. Support structures such as the family, peers and friends and even councils or facilitators should be given proper guidelines on how to deal with those suffering from depression, especially on how to intervene in terms of talking to the person,” she said.

Imelu G. Mordeno, who holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a professor at the Mindanao State University–Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) pointed out the prevailing problem in the lack of research data.

“While there is a vast array of professional literature on depression in campuses, there is too little pertaining to the Philippine context. Assessing depression must be put into context. There is a need to improve mental health in schools. Most misconceptions about suicide lie mainly on attributing to so-called weak characteristics of these individuals,” said Mordeno.

Mordeno further explained that, “We need research that would identify risk and protective factors, on the ground and in the local contexts, related to suicide, which needs to be understood as an amalgamation of several factors: Academic pressure, poor social support. Excessive expectations from family/parents/relatives may also contribute to the likelihood of committing deliberate self-harm, or worst, suicide.”

Mordeno added that there is also research on risk and protective factors related to alcohol and substance that possibly nudge high school students toward depression.

“The use of drugs and alcohol can be a way of coping, to anesthetize oneself from the pain and depression. However, substance abuse later becomes an independent disorder because, even without depression, the addiction continues,” Mordeno said.

A 25-year old AB Communication graduate of Father Saturnino Urios University (FSSU) shared her experience in dealing with mood disorder and clinical depression that almost brought her to commit suicide:

“I never had the feeling that I was coping with a disorder because I didn’t know I was suffering from a disorder in the first place, until I was 23 years old and still in college. I thought my lack of interest for school work and my bad habits were just uncontrollable cases of laziness and carelessness. I have experienced a series of passive suicidal thoughts, but I felt like it was just drama, and didn’t feel that my mental pain wasn’t important to talk about. However, the older I got, the more I strongly thought about ending my own life, and I would literally grab any tool that I could use to do that, and sleep next to it. I was diagnosed in 2015, after experiencing a breakdown, which everybody including my friends and family saw. I was already hurting the people that I love, and that was when I realized I needed help.”

While her parents were supportive, the idea of having someone with such a disorder in the family was still unreal to them. This is why parents and family members also need to be educated about mental health. “It really helps to have someone who is a professional and a few supportive friends to talk to; they give you a balance of helpful facts and opinions,” she said.

“I was a victim of stigma in school. Stories about my visits to the hospital circulated fast because I was in the student council and people knew me. Even my friends called me names like crazy and bipolar … They don’t know what it’s really like, so they should be educated about it.”

“Depression and mental health issues should never stand in the way of living our lives to the fullest or as normally as we can. The world must understand and see that we exist. Recognizing and coming to grips with our realities is very important for us. Sadly, some troubled teens, students, even adults, may resort to suicide even before they get diagnosed. Misconception is the root of stigma; physical disorder is more obvious. We see it. That is why we empathize with people who have it, but in the case of mental health issues we tend to assume it’s something temporary, or that a patient can eventually get over it. I can’t blame others for misconstruing mental health terms or making fun of them; the problem is the lack of awareness campaign and information. This should be taught in homes and schools, parents should be more open to this concept, and schools must have programs that holistically take care of students and employees who have this,” she said.

One 19-year-old college student, Jessica, who was a victim of date rape and bullying in school expressed the lack of a support system attuned to the trauma she went through: “It was hard keeping and hiding what happened to me, I was raped by my former boyfriend when I was at 16 years old and then in school I was often bullied by school mates for being different. Loneliness and being alone became my closest friends. In my room, either I’m crying or just wanting to end my life. I wanted to scream and shout but I fear no one would understand my condition, eventually I tried to commit suicide and was rushed to hospital. In shame my parents tried to hide it from the entire world, and further alienated me and my condition, making my life more miserable. There is no single moment that I did not want to commit suicide again, until I had a chance to get in touch with others, on the Internet, who were just like me and introduced me to a professional who was able to eventually help me cope. I’m not yet fully healed but I am a work in progress.”

This April 2017 the DOH announced plans to increase their budget for mental health to Php 1 billion for the upgrade of mental health facilities all over the Philippines, with another Php 100 million toward anti-psychotics or mental health drugs. Several institutions have started to formulate their research and plans to address the rising issue of depression among students.