By KERRY TINGA and JULES VIVAS

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“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 [discussion] is very relevant now, especially because of the peak in suicide rates. It is not just in the Philippines, but other countries, too.”

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 the 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 professional help?

“When sleep and appetite are getting affected. When work or school is getting affected,” Dr. Lising-Enriquez told us.“Do not wait for having suicidal thoughts. When the things that you used to enjoy you do not look forward to anymore.”

She mentioned something called anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure, a common symptom of depression and other mental disorders. There are two types of anhedonia that people with depression or other mental disorders may experience: social anhedonia, and physical anhedonia.

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With social anhedonia, a person does not enjoy being around other people and may not want to spend time with others. Maybe they used to enjoy hanging out with friends, but suddenly at some point, they do not find any pleasure in the social activities they used to appreciate. This social isolation and withdrawal could eventually worsen how the person feels. With physical anhedonia, a person does not enjoy physical sensations that many people would find comforting, such as a hug from a loved one.

Anhedonia is not a difference between introverts and extroverts, or a difference in what people like, but a sudden and drastic change in behavior without any clear explanation. It may even be something that a person does not realize they are going through, and it may take a concerned friend or family member to point it out.

Is there a common cause of anxiety or mental illness in young people?

Every person is different, and it takes time to find out what the is a reason for the feelings of anxiety or mental illness if there is one. There does seem to be, however, a common situation that may result in increased anxiety for young people.

“When there is a transition,” said Dr. Lising-Enriquez, “For example, in high school, they may have been at the top of their class, but in college, they find that they have never studied so hard in their lives but they feel so average. Most kids do not like feeling like they are average, especially if they have undetected anxiety in high school. When they go to college, because of the increase in demands and academic load, that is usually when it manifests.”

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“Or from college, when they start work,” she continued.“In school, you can control everything for the most part, if you study hard and submit requirements on time. When they enter the workforce, they find that they cannot control a lot of things anymore, especially the people: their bosses, direct bosses, peers. Sometimes that is when it manifests. So a life transition or a role transition.”

If you are about to go through a life transition or a role transition, try as much as you can to mentally prepare yourself for the inevitable change that you cannot control. Perhaps discuss your fears and concerns before the transition with someone you trust, just talking about it could make a person feel better prepared.

Is there anything about the rise of anxiety in young people specific to the Philippine context?

Dr. Lising-Enriquez compared 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.”

While not every person needs to be medicated, young people experiencing anxiety, stress, or depression may need to seek professional help. It is a topic that many people in the country are still hesitant to discuss, particularly when medication is involved.

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.

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Unfortunately, there is still a lack of 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 stressed 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.”

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.

The story first came out on March 12, 2020


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/05/19/when-should-young-people-seek-help-for-their-anxiety/)