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Online searches for mental health services and products up in Philippines, study finds

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Online searches for mental health services and products up in Philippines, study finds
A fully-armed police officer patrols a residential area in Barangay Mauway in Mandaluyong CIty as the barangay is placed under "total lockdown" from May 11-13, 2020.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — Online searches for mental health services went up in the Philippines during the pandemic, putting it second among six Southeast Asian countries in a study by price aggregator iPrice.

The study, released Thursday, found a 128% increase in Google searches for mental health services from January to May 2021 compared to 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Philippines is second to Indonesia. Other countries in the study are Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

"Indonesia and the Philippines also had the highest increase in the first year of the pandemic (80% and 44% respectively), and continue to grow further as the coronavirus continues to spread," it added.

The two countries have also been dealing with rising COVID-19 cases with Indonesia having the most cases in Southeast Asia.

iPrice said it obtained its search volumes, depending on “usual nature of the country’s language and culture, from Google Keyword Planner on July 14-16. For the Philippines, keywords like “psychologists near me” were used, it said.

“Search volumes were collected and compared from January to May of each year (2019-2021),” it added.

A poll by mental health and well-being organization MindNation showed Filipino employees rated their mental wellness at work at 6.5 following the pandemic, down from 8 before the unprecedented health crisis.

The poll showed that 61% of the respondents said they were stressed, 53% were either worried or anxious, 34% were depressed and 32% felt empty.

Surge in search for stress-relief products

iPrice also said its study found that the Philippines recorded a 151% increase in search for mental health-related items such as scented candles, weighted blankets, essential oils and therapy lamps.

“In the Philippines, searches for scented candles increased by a whopping 348% comparing the first five months of [2021] with the same period in 2019. Trendy items like weighted blankets, essential oils, and therapy lamps all increased by 273%, 155% and 139% respectively,” the study said.

“Back and neck massagers, adult coloring books, and herbal tea also experienced a surge of 112%, 99%, and 97% each,” it added.

Searches of these items in Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore increased too, the study said. "Back and neck massagers seem to have the highest increase in interest for Malaysia and Singapore, while scented candles and therapy lamps seem to gain more of Vietnam’s," iPrice said.

The study also found that the Philippines showed an increase in interest in mental health applications listed by website Verywell Mind.

“The Philippines saw a 174% increase of interest in these apps, with meditation app Headspace taking the highest amount of interest. Talkspace, on the other hand, experienced the most increase (192%) in searches compared to the others,” it said.

Malaysia and Singapore also showed increased interest in mental health-related applications, noting 108% and 106% surges, respectively. The study showed that like in the Philippines, Headspace and Talkspace were also the most popular apps in the said countries.

“It’s likely that a ‘mental health epidemic’ is succeeding the coronavirus pandemic, given the data above. The alarming increase of suicide rates and interest in mental health-related services and products are glaring indicators of Southeast Asians’ declining mental state,” iPrice said.

DOH: Okay to not be okay

The Department of Health has acknowledged that the pandemic can affect mental health and has emphasized that those who feel sad or worried during the coronavirus pandemic are not alone.

"Okey lang na hindi ka okey. Hindi ka nag-iisa. May mga taong naandiyan para suportahan ka," it says on its FAQ on mental health.

(It is okay to not be okay. You are not alone. There are people who will support you)

DOH also suggests going on "brain breaks" like getting in touch with family or friends through text messaging, phone calls, or online chat. It says it is important to stay connected with others despite the restrictions on movement due to the pandemic.

"You can talk to them about what you are experiencing," the DOH said.

It also suggests exercise and doing things that make you happy or that relax you.

The department urges people seeking professional support to get in touch with the National Center for Mental Health hotlines at 0917-899-USAP (8727) or 899-USAP (8727); or its Mind Matters hotline at 09189424864

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