In the Philippines, in 2018, children younger than 18 accounted for about 40% of the population, according to UNICEF data. The Philippine Development Plan for 2017-2023 points out that children stand “among the most vulnerable population groups in society.” Furthermore, the National Statistics Office (NSO) highlights that “mental health illnesses rank as the third most common form of morbidity among Filipinos.” The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues, making it crucial to address children’s mental health in the Philippines.
Overview of Children’s Mental Health in the Philippines
A 2015 Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) highlights that approximately 17% of Filipino students aged 13 to 17 had attempted suicide once a year at minimum. This data indicates that mental issues among the youth have been an issue even before the pandemic. Notably, from March 2020 to May 2020, the Filipino government documented a “260% increase in online child abuse reports,” including instances of sexual exploitation, which has a direct impact on mental well-being.
Impact of COVID-19
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Philippines’ “militaristic approach” to lockdowns also affected children’s mental health due to the fear of violence under the military presence in communities, according to a study by Grace Zurielle C. Malolos and others.
This strict confinement limited physical activities and social interaction among adolescents, aggravating the stability of children’s mental health in the Philippines. In April 2020, when the Philippines implemented a total lockdown, a survey of 200 children aged 6-12 years old in both public and private schools in Luzon, Philippines, showed that the participants expressed feelings of sadness, fear, anger and disappointment, among other emotions. The study also found that parents’ views regarding the lockdown had a major impact on children’s mental health in the Philippines.
Impact of Extreme Weather
Because of its geographic location, the Philippines faces at least 20 typhoons annually. The Philippines faced 22 tropical typhoons in the year 2020 alone, causing numerous casualties. Overall, extreme weather patterns in the Philippines have had both direct and indirect impacts on the mental health conditions of Filipino children due to the destruction of schools and homes and increased feelings of stress and anxiety, among other impacts.
There is also the indirect impact of the psychological phenomenon known as “climate anxiety” or “eco-anxiety.” A 2021 Current Psychology article highlights that the threat of extreme weather patterns causes an increase in family stress, suicide ideation and amplification of past trauma. This aspect of children’s mental health in the Philippines often goes overlooked.
Efforts to Improve Children’s Mental Health in the Philippines
In 2021, the USAID RenewHealth Project collaborated with the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) to launch the first mobile application to improve mental health in the Philippines. This mobile application, called the Lusog-Isip app, provides access to self-care resources and self-help services for mental health needs. This includes workbooks, activities, journals, audio and more.
A pilot test of the app reveals that users experienced “improved well-being and the ability to use certain coping strategies such as cognitive reappraisal and emotional expression.” In the event that a user requires mental health resources that the app cannot provide, the app directs the user to these resources. The app will undergo further refining to ensure that it is most beneficial to the most vulnerable groups, such as young people.
With a commitment to serving the most vulnerable populations, the government can improve children’s mental health in the Philippines.
– Youngwook Chun