Over 5,000 Filipinos flood national mental health hotlines during pandemic

Sofia Tomacruz

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Over 5,000 Filipinos flood national mental health hotlines during pandemic

A crowd of commuters along Ayala Avenue in Makati City on March 16, 2020, find it difficult to get a ride due to the implementation of social distancing on public transportation. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

Inoue Jaena/Rappler

The National Center for Mental Health says an average of 876 calls are made to the center since quarantine measures were first implemented in March

Unprecedented months-long lockdown measures and the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic have taken a toll on many Filipinos, as the National Center for Mental Health reported that over 5,000 calls were made to its hotlines since March. 

In a press briefing on Wednesday, August 26, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire cited NCMH figures that showed 9,494 Filipinos so far were provided mental health services since May 2019 when the hotline was set up. 

A stark proportion of more than half of the 9,494 Filipinos serviced were seen in the months of March to August, or starting from when the Philippine government first implemented strict lockdown measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Data from the NCMH listed 672 calls were made in March, while 1,104 were made in April, 1,083 in May, 1,115 in June, 1,034 in July, and so far, at least 440 as of August 15. 

In the months before the pandemic, the center received an average of 400 calls monthly from May 2019 to February 2020. Broken down daily, NCMH said this consisted of an average of 13 to 15 calls per day.

Between March to August this year, the average number of daily calls received increased to 32 to 37. The same was true for monthly calls, with the NCMH reporting an average of 876 calls made. 

The monthly average of calls related to suicide also increased, with the center receiving 53 calls per month as of August 15. In an earlier press briefing, NCMH psychiatrist Bernard Argamosa said an average of 45 suicide-related calls were made as of May 31. 

For over 5 months now, millions of residents across the Philippines continue to live under community quarantine, restricting their movement to varying degrees. 

The Philippine government had earlier implemented one of the longest lockdowns in the world, with residents in the island group of Luzon under strict quarantine measures from March 17 to April 30.  

The epicenter of the country’s pandemic, Metro Manila, had also recently shifted back to a general community quarantine from a modified enhanced community quarantine in early August. Meanwhile, the government struggles to beat back the rise in cases with nearly 200,000 infections and over 3,000 deaths reported. 

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Filipinos’ experiences

Vergeire said the NCMH reported the top reason for people calling was “anxiety-related concerns.” Many people who reached out to the center were also “returning callers” in situations exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Majority of the callers were from Metro Manila, with more females calling, compared to males. From April to August, most calls were also made by people between 18 to 30 years old. 

Health officials have repeatedly urged the public to take care of their mental health as part of measures to protect themselves against the coronavirus. 

With the increase in Filipinos reaching out for help, Vergeire also urged the public to avoid stigmatizing mental health issues. 

“It’s okay not to be okay,” Vergeire said. 

The NCMH and DOH reminded the public of the center’s crisis hotlines below: 

  • Mobile: 09178998727
  • Landline: 02-7-989-8727
  • Toll free, Landline to landline: 1553

Lines are open 24/7. –

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story provided the wrong NCHM crisis hotline mobile number. We apologize for the error.

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.