Imminent passage of mental health bill gives hope

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mental health

By Lucia Edna P. de Guzman, Reporter
and Rissa Coronel, Contributor, SparkUp

When the House of Representatives reopened after the ASEAN Summit on Monday, its first order of the day was to read the HB6452 or the Comprehensive Mental Health Act for the third and final time. It was a monotonous 20-minute enumeration of the names of 223 congressmen affirming its passage, leading up to the historical announcement that, finally, the country may see its first-ever mental health legislation.

From there, it will move to a bicameral conference to merge both versions of the Senate and House, before it lands on the table of the President for signing.

But the 20 minutes under the spotlight in the house is a mere speck when compared with the 20 years that the Philippine mental health community has pushed for it.

“It spanned two decades!” exclaimed Dr. Violeta “Bolet’ Bautista, an officer of the Psychological Association of the Philippines and founder of the Care and Counsel Wholeness Center, on the sidelines of the plenary session. “Basically, it’s almost a law. When it gets passed, then we can finally reach our dream for mental health.”

The move of the government to create a law for mental health is already a statement in itself. It sends a message to mental illness sufferers that the government acknowledges their presence and their situation.

The Mental Health Act provides for the integration of mental health care into the general health care system. The act mandates that the government — particularly the Department of Health (DoH), Department of Interior and Local Goverment (DILG), local government units, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and the Department of Justice (DoJ) — come up with programs that promote mental health and investigate cases of discrimination against those undergoing mental health treatment.

Among the many provisions of the law will be to allot a budget for mental health services, provide mental health education in schools, and protect the rights and welfare of persons with mental health needs.

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.

What this means for people suffering from mental illnesses is access to more support from the government.

Presently, the government already offers a number of mental health programs, but without the focus and attention that an actual legislation can provide.

In fact, the Philippines has only one psychiatrist for every 250,000 persons according to the DoH, explaining why mentally ill people have to line up outside their psychiatrist’s clinic for about four hours to see their doctor.

“The law will create facilities,” Dr. Bautista said. “Right now, there are only few mental health agencies, hospitals,” she said. “This law will develop community-based centers so that more people can access mental health services.”

“We have national guidelines on mental health and psychosocial support in disasters and emergencies, but this was only passed this year,” she added. Psychological First Aid works to help individuals in times of calamities, but not in their everyday struggles.

“There’s also an office under DoH, but it’s only a part of a division,” Dr. Bautista added. “Mental health concerns are under the purview of the DoH office for non-communicable disease, so they may not be able to give focus to it.

“Now, this will really be the law. It will create structures, checks and balances to protect both mental care professionals and service users. Best part is, from it, policies and programs will be developed to promote the holistic health of a person, meaning it will tackle the total well-being of a person. That’s exciting.”

The Youth for Mental Health Coalition, the first SEC-registered mental health organization and one of the biggest in the country, called it “the best piece of legislation,” for service users and stakeholders involved in mental health.

Over on Twitter, the hashtag #MoveForMH trended at No. 5, where netizens called the passage their “early Christmas gift.”