Father’s hope stronger for his daughter’s recovery from emergency-induced mental illness, with UNFPA support

9 August 2020
A relative of a patient with a mental health issue awaits the Cash for Protection distribution inside a hospital in Makilala, North Cotabato. (c) Maitem/ UNFPA Philippines.

MAKILALA, NORTH COTABATO, The Philippines -- Inside the earthquake-cracked residence of the Hayods family, Martin’s 15-year-old daughter Lyka* is now always looking straight at him, hurling words that the father has never heard, constantly needing his attention. As she walks towards him, Martin gives  Lyka a quick but tight hug to reassure his second daughter, “Everything will be okay, Daughter. Just trust Papa.”

Holding Lyka in his arms, Martin was recalling the natural disasters that totally changed his family’s lives - on 16 October 2019 night, a strong earthquake of Magnitude 6.3 jolted North Cotabato Province, which forced the Hayods family to flee their house along with thousands of others in Makilala.  Many of the same communities and other vast areas in the province were struck by countless aftershocks and three major earthquakes on 29 and 31 October, from M6.1 to M6.6. “The strong shakes destroyed many buildings, and many peoples’ dreams.  It also broke my daughter’s mental state.” 


Emergencies affect people physically, economically, and mentally

An emergency - be it a natural disaster such as earthquake, typhoon, flooding or tsunami, or armed conflict, or mega-scale accident - can devastate physical infrastructure, cause human casualties, displace people, disrupt economic activities and services. It can also destroy a community’s social fabric and mutual-help systems, and isolate people.  In and after such an emergency situation, many feel mental distress, depression, anxiety about the future - some more severely than others.  Some also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Within a year following the 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), over 800,000 people suffered from different mental health conditions, according to the UN World Health Organization’s estimate.  Mental disorders caused by such an external shock, often take longer to heal than the time needed to rehabilitate the broken houses.   

“My daughter too must have been traumatized by the earthquake experiences,” surmises Martin.

“She was watching television in the house when we heard a loud underground rumbling and the entire wooden-made house trembled viciously. My daughter has been a different person since that night.”

Lyka started uttering unknown words, jumping up and down straight from their balcony. She lost appetite as well.  The subsequent change in the base of their life was also stressful as they needed to move to an evacuation center because their house was partly destroyed.  After Martin took her all the way to a doctor 110 km away in Davao City and received antidepressants and mood-stabilizing medicines for her, and then moved to the relative’s house farther in Tagum, Lyka’s behavior got back to normal - or so he thought.

When her school classes resumed in January 2020, the family returned to Makilala.  “But when she saw the damages brought about by the earthquakes, my daughter suddenly started to have panic attacks,” Martin recalled. “She then prefers to be alone all the time.  The once bright and cheerful girl has totally changed.”

Ms. Sunny Vhie Saniel, a mental health coordinator at Makilala Hospital, said their patients surged to over 200 since the earthquakes. “Our patients have dramatically increased after the earthquakes.  Most of them were traumatized. ”

For teenage patients like Martin’s daughter, the condition can make it difficult for them to focus on studying as they were able to do previously, according to Ms. Saniel.  Having a loved one suffering from mental illness affects not only the patient, but the entire family.

These people displaced by the earthquakes are now suffering also from additional difficulties caused by the unprecedented COVID-19 health emergency and associated quarantine measures.  The increased social isolation, loneliness, anxiety about their health and also the economic downturn are, all combined, affecting their mental health and wellbeing.  The multi-agency Gender and Inclusion Assessment that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the Philippines recently led to examine the impacts of the pandemic, also pointed to an increase in mental and psychological problems, especially among women and young people. 


New “Cash for Protection” for mental health and psychosocial support

UNFPA Philippines has augmented its Mental Health and Psycho-social Support (MHPSS) for the earthquake survivors in Mindanao, by introducing a new “Cash for Protection” (C4P) initiative, with the support of the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). The C4P aims to strengthen the resilience of the affected women and girls and provide them with a social safety net, through the provision of unconditional cash transfer.  Those who are identified by the local health officers and social workers as persons living with psychosocial disabilities and in need of socio-economic support - particularly women and girls -  receive P10,000 (approximately USD 200) from the UNFPA project to cover their medical needs. This C4P helps eliminate economic barriers in accessing critical and essential health needs, including sexual and reproductive health services, in addition to mental health and psychosocial support.  The initiative also helps strengthen or restore the dignity and self-worth of women and girls who have mental and physical health challenges, especially those whose conditions were aggravated by the natural disaster and pandemic. Survivors of gender-based violence, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or child marriage, are also covered by this MHPSS intervention.

Ms. Saniel appreciated UNFPA’s Cash for Protection for MHPSS “because our own funds allocated for mental health were not enough. With support by our partners like UNFPA, we were able to continue to provide the minimum assistance to the increased clients in our town that they needed.”

“The medicines are really expensive.   Without this cash assistance, I don’t not know if we could sustain my daughter’s treatments.  This has really been a big help since we are still trying to recover from the earthquake disaster last year, and now from COVID,” Martin said after receiving UNFPA’s ‘Cash for Protection’ assistance at Makilala Hospital, through UNFPA’s NGO implementing partner, the Mindanao Organization for Social and Economic Progress, Incorporated (MOSEP).

“This helps us keep our hope for our daughter’s recovery.” Martin is looking forward to that day coming soon.


*Some names in this article have been changed to retain their anonymity




To reinforce its life-saving reproductive health support for those women and girls affected amid the pandemic, UNFPA Philippines is appealing for additional financial support as part of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan to COVID-19