FOR THE RECORD, this is not an attempt to invalidate or downplay the mental health issues that confront today’s youth. As a private school administrator for the past 21 years, I have been a witness to the varied struggles of our learners, including those that affect the state of their mental health. In fact, the numbers are definitely concerning.
According to the World Health Organization, 10-15% of Filipino children age 5 to 15 face mental health problems; while 16.8% of Filipino students age 13 to 17 have attempted to end their lives for at least once within the year before the conduct of the Global School-based Student Health Survey in 2015. On the other hand, the National Statistics Office says that mental health illnesses rank as the third most common form of morbidity among Filipinos.
But when I look back at my student days in the not-so-distant past, I couldn’t help but wonder if our generation was simply made of harder stuff that although mental health issues were probably around during that time, we had a distinct way to face and overcome them. Either that, or we had a strong support system around us which prepared us to face a gamut of challenges that came our way.
In the absence of many gadgets to tinker with, we were out in the streets playing, or in the rice fields running and climbing trees. We walked our way to school under the heat of the sun, bathed under the rains, or jumped and swam in the rivers on our way home. The playmates we fought with over a game of marbles in the afternoon, are the same playmates we tag along and partner with the next day in a game of patintero or moro-moro against a group of boys from across the street, or our school mates from another grade level.
We run after each other in the school ground or right there in the middle of the streets; we stumble, we fall, we rise again and then run as fast as we can, unmindful of the scratch on our knees or on our elbows. No one goes to the class adviser or to a parent to complain about being “pushed” during horseplay. Everyone joins the fun and is ready to get hurt, all in the spirit of enjoying the games we have all been accustomed to.
We may not be equals in terms of our family’s economic status, or our own intellectual capacities but outside of our own homes and the classrooms, we were simply a bunch of children and teenagers enjoying each other’s company, exploring the world as we knew it, and leaning on each other for some form of support.
School work did not stress us at all; we had fun learning the basics and embraced the stern discipline we received from our teachers. We always looked forward to the afternoons tending the garden assigned to our class. The weekends served as a breather to be with our friends to play basketball in a makeshift court in someone’s backyard, watch a rerun of some FPJ or Dolphy movies in a neighbor’s TV set, or read the latest issues of Aliwan, Hiwaga and Love Story komiks being rented out by another neighbor.
We had our own share of failures, rejections, and family problems. Quite surprisingly, we never made a big deal out of all these. Whether we had a unique way of coping, or we were simply oblivious to all of these because we were enjoying our youth, I really do not know and I better leave it to the experts. But I just wish today’s youth can learn a lesson or two from the generations that came before them especially the Batang ‘80s and ‘90s. I would like to believe that we were able to draw our strength from both the physical and social activities we enjoyed doing without any fear of judgment or rejection.
Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic has even worsened the already-problematic state of mental well-being of many Filipino youth. We are comforted by the thought that over the years, there has been an increasing awareness for mental health. Mental health issues are real; to deny their existence will be a great disservice to many who continue to suffer in silence.