DOH, USAID: Youth at higher risk of substance use, mental health issues

Lady Vicencio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 14 2022 07:05 PM

The high risk for adolescents being involved in substance use and acquire mental health illness is a public health issue, according to the Department of Health.

Studies conducted by the United States Agency for International Development or USAID show that the said age group is at greater risk for both problems that can co-occur.

“If take a look of studies, it’s the youth with higher incidents of mental health. We also know that substance use is typically highest among the youth compared to other age groups,” Dr. Ma. Regina Hechanova-Alampay, chief of party of USAID RenewHealth Project said.

Raging hormones, developing brain, lifestyle, and poor coping strategies are among the factors considered in youth cases.

“Brain development does not actually stop until about mid 20s… Youth do struggle with all the stressors, all the changes in their life because they may not have the cognitive ability yet to deal with all of these an most of the time, they make poor choices of use poor coping strategy,” Alampay explained.

As children enter adolescence, they are exposed to risk-taking behaviors and experimentations that may lead to substance use that is not limited to illegal drugs.

A study conducted among Filipino college students show that 98 percent are at low risk for drug use, 94% are at low risk for alcohol use, and 87 percent are at low risk for cigarette smoking.

Predictors of drug use are peer substance use and cigarette use. 

“This means that there are gateway substances that rather than jumping into drug use, most of the time teenagers use other substances first. That’s why it’s important that when we talk about anti-drug programs and solutions, we don’t just focus on drugs. we need to focus on substances,” Alampay said.

Alampay urged communities and the government to work together to provide adolescents an environment that is conducive for improving quality of life.

Other risk factors of Filipino youth are low literacy, poor social skills leading to peer pressure, adverse childhood experiences from neglect, abuse and other traumatic experiences and socioeconomic status.

The DOH is promoting the use of Lusog-Isip app developed to provide mental healthcare especially during the pandemic.

It can be used as a journal and has exercises, mood tracking, and safe-care reminders.

“We come here together recognizing that substance use is a public health issue and that it entails a whole of government, whole of society approach with a lot of good evidence but also a lot of empathy,” Dr. Beverly Ho said.