In the age of social media and the internet, the youth sector of the Southeast Asian country, Philippines, have found themselves in a silent yet deadly epidemic — mental health disorders. Dr. Cornelio Banaag Jr., who pioneered the discipline of child psychology in the country, said that “there’s a mental health crisis going on,” and he has never seen anything like it in his more than 50 years of practice.
Banaag is a professor emeritus from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and is widely considered as the father of child psychology in the Philippines. Talking to a group of teachers and parents at the Raya School in Quezon City, Philippines, the psychologist told the audience that the cases of depression and anxiety are growing at an unprecedented rate.
“I’ve seen depression and anxiety but not to the degree that we have now. I’ve seen suicidal patients but not to the extent that we see now. It worries me. There’s not a week that goes by when you don’t hear about people cutting themselves, people so depressed that they threaten to kill themselves, attempt to kill themselves or actually dying,” he said as reported by local news agency, the Inquirer.
The state of mental health in the Philippines
Banaag cited the report from the World Health Organization showing that an estimated 10 to 20 percent of children and adolescents are suffering from some sort of mental disorders and illnesses. And this statistic also translates to the rise in the number of young people in the Philippines committing suicide.
Statistics from the 2015 study 2015 survey of Philippine high school students age 13 to 17 paints a tragic growth in the number of suicide cases charted among the youth. According to the study, at least 17% of Filipino children have committed suicide, while around 12% have thought about it.
Some Philippine provinces and cities also had it worse. According to police data, the Iloilo in the Visayas region of the Philippines charted at least 67 recorded deaths due to suicide from January to September 2019. This number has surpassed the figures of all the suicide cases in all 12 months of 2018. Worse is that at least 22 of those who died of suicide in the last nine months were children of the age of 10 to 12 years old.
Technology is the culprit
With this alarming number, the Banaag could not help to ask: “The question is, what happened to this generation? What makes them so different from previous generations?”
In his search for answers, Banaag turns to technology as the primary culprit of the silent pandemic. Banaag explains that smartphones have become popular in 2007 and correlate it with the reports that by 2010, “mental health professionals all over the world began to see changes in the behavior of young people.”
“I’ve never seen a group of people so stressed,” he adds. “Have you ever heard a 5-year-old say, ‘I’m stressed’? I have!”
Banaag said that there is a correlation in the amount of time a young person spends online and the prevalence of mental disorders. He said that youngsters who spend more time on the internet and social media platforms have a higher risk of developing mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
It is also noteworthy to mention that according to Banaag, technology in itself is not the reason why children and young adults develop mental disorders, but the change in behavior that it encourages which leads to chronic stress.
The best response to the crisis
The best response to this problem, according to the child psychiatrist, is a collaboration between parents, educators, and mental health professionals to detect symptoms early and respond to them as soon as possible.
“Gen Z is a very young generation needing to be understood and supported,” says Banaag. “They want to change the world, but they want to do it their way. They don’t trust anybody else. We have to make ourselves into people they can trust, people who can understand their struggle—then they can come to us.”