Screenshot of a promotional video for the Lusog-Isip app. Photo credit: URC

The USAID RenewHealth Project – in collaboration with the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) – has successfully launched the first ever mobile application to support Filipinos’ mental health needs. The app is available in both English and Filipino.

In the era of COVID-19, mobile phones are one of the few reliable tools available to health professionals to reach individuals facing mental health challenges while confined to their homes. This app successfully delivers self-help tools and individualized mental health resources to users at a time when face-to-face interventions are challenging.

And the app is an important part of RenewHealth’s efforts to connect Filipinos with community-based drug rehabilitation (CBDR). Through RenewHealth, URC works to help persons who use drugs, people in recovery, and their families obtain access to informal care, self-help resources, and community-based rehabilitation and recovery support to reduce or prevent drug dependence.

Promotional introduction video for Lusog-Isip.

Meeting Mental Health Needs Remotely During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to growing – and often unmet – mental health needs. The DOH estimates that at least 3.6 million Filipinos are facing mental health issues during the pandemic, including depression, substance use disorders such as alcohol use disorder, and mood disorders like bipolar disorder. COVID-19 infection in itself has been found to directly impact a person’s mental health. A recent DOH study found that one of three COVID-19 patients in the Philippines was diagnosed with a mental health condition within six months of testing positive for COVID-19. Government-mandated lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus – and associated social isolation – have exacerbated existing mental health challenges.

DOH’s Mental Health Division Chief Health Program Officer, Frances Prescilla Cuevas says: “As the Department of Health and our health workers strive towards coping and living with this pandemic, we must find ways to care for the mental well-being of our fellow Filipinos who continue to suffer because of this current circumstance.”

Lusog-Isip App Provides Toolkit to Improve Mental Health

The Lusog-Isip app, which means healthy minds in Filipino, meets people where they are – and puts mental health in their hands – literally.

After a year of development together with the DOH Mental Health Unit, the mobile app is now available to the public. The app provides access to self-help and self-care resources to address mental health and substance abuse needs by inviting users to assess their well-being and their coping strategies. It then presents targeted resources and next steps to improve that status. The app offers evidence-based tools and materials to the user, including:

  • Workbooks
  • Exercises
  • Audio guides
  • Journaling
  • Mood tracking
  • Self-care reminders

If the user finds that the self-help tools are insufficient to meet their mental health needs, the app also provides a list of available mental health and psychosocial support services– both online and nearby.

Culturally adapted, the app’s features and interventions are “contextualized according to the needs of Filipinos,” said the DOH’s Cuevas. Launched on October 15 in conjunction with Mental Health Week in the Philippines, the Lusog-Isip app can be downloaded for free through Google Play and Apple App Stores. Personal information is kept confidential.

A how-it-works video on the Lusog-Isip mobile app.

Pilot Testing Indicates App Successfully Reaches Target Audiences

The app was successfully pilot tested to assess:

  • Different domains of the app, including its understandability, interface design, and objectivity
  • The most frequently used app feature
  • Improvement in overall well-being after using the app
  • Improvement in coping strategies after using the app
  • Key take-away messages after using the app

The results of the pilot test indicated that users had several take-away messages after using the app, including:

  • Active management of mental health is important
  • Self-awareness is the first step to improve well-being
  • Building a strong social support system can improve mental health
  • Healthy coping mechanisms for stress can improve our well-being
  • Journaling is an important tool to identify patterns in mental health stressors

The pilot test indicated that the users of the Lusog-Isip app reported improved well-being and the ability to use certain coping strategies such as cognitive reappraisal and emotional expression. Users also appreciated the cultural relevance and contextualization of the contents to the Filipino population.

Further improvement and testing will be conducted to make the app pertinent to sub-populations such as teenagers and substance users.

Michelle Lang-Alli, USAID Philippines Office of Health Director, says, “we hope that Lusog-Isip will provide access to self-help tools and materials for improving clients’ mental health, and address substance use – one of USAID’s key priorities.”

USAID is committed to supporting the promotion of the app across schools, workplaces, and communities throughout the Philippines.