This Christmas season, mental health professionals and advocates alike have only one thing on their wish list: the passage of a Philippine Mental Health Law.
At a press conference last Monday, advocates called upon lawmakers to hasten the passage of the Philippine Mental Health Law through a discourse about the state of the Mental Health Bill, now up for its third and final reading in the House of Representatives.
Below are some of the reasons why Mental Health Law must be passed ASAP:
1. Mental health is not a matter reserved only for people with diagnosed mental health conditions.
As defined in the bill, it is “a state of psychosocial well‑being in which individuals realize their own abilities adequately with the normal stresses of life, display resilience in the face of extreme life events, work productively and fruitfully, and are able to make positive contributions to the community.”
Mental health is not just the absence of illness. It is something that everyone who has a functioning brain (and we mean this literally, not figuratively) must take seriously.
2. The Philippines is the only Southeast Asian country left without a mental health law.
“First of all, global statistics say that one in 20 individuals have mental health problems. The disability impact of mental health disorders is 28%, much higher than other non‑communicable diseases,” Dr. June Lopez of the Philippine Psychiatric Association pointed out. “[In the country], the budget for mental health mainly goes into hospitals and tertiary care facilities, wherein those who are hospitalized already have severe problems,” Dr. Lopez said.
3. The Philippine Mental Health Bill is a rights‑based bill.
It protects both the rights of people with mental health needs, and the rights of all Filipinos. The rights of mental health service users, carers and professionals are articulated in the bill. Substance abuse and drug dependence are also defined as a psychological disorder, making it unjust to criminalize sufferers.
4. The bill is for the protection and promotion of every Filipino.
“The power of the law will lead to the development of mental health services that will promote the well‑being Filipinos for thriving of individuals in homes, schools, workplaces and communities. [It] will also lead to the development of more services supporting Filipinos going through all sorts of experiences like migration and marital conflict, life transitions, disaster and even war.”
5. It will open up a lot of services and programs.
Some of the mandates of the bill in its current state include: the establishment of a National Mental Health Council to improve access to services and community‑based prevention programs, and the accountability of concerned government agencies (e.g. the Department of Health, Department of Justice, Commission on Human Rights).
6. It will offer a complaint system.
The bill also mandates the establishment of a complaint mechanism against abuse of individuals with mental health disorders. It also calls for mental health education programs in all levels and research support.
7. You may have the opportunity to meditate or take art therapy in your barangay.
Community‑based prevention programs on the barangay level will be implemented to promote mental wellness. This includes meditation, home visits, family support, growth groups, art therapy and dance therapy. It will also promote capacity‑building with local mental health workers with facilities and university hospitals.
8. It will benefit Filipinos in a “most profound way.”
During the press con, Patrick Wincy Reyes of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition said that mental health : “It’s a step towards attaining that. You don’t have to be a psychologist to advocate for mental health—you just have to have an open mind and the willingness to be the voice of the unheard… implementing it into law will reach the farthest provinces in ways that are very concrete.”
The Comprehensive Mental Health Bill, HB 6452, is expected to undergo its third and final reading once the Congress opens after the ASEAN Summit.
Finally, Dr. Bolet Bautista of the Psychological Association of the Philippines urged lawmakers: “When you approve the bill, you give the Filipino people one big, beautiful gift—for it is one that will benefit all Filipinos in a most profound way.”