Mental health of Filipinos needs more attention

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ON Oct. 10, the World Health Organization (WHO) offices in Geneva led the global commemoration of World Mental Health Day, with the theme, “dignity in mental health.”

The 2015 commemoration was aimed at raising awareness of what still needs to be done to ensure that people with mental health conditions can continue to live with dignity. Now, more than ever, there is a need to further push this advocacy of enabling people with mental conditions to live with dignity through human rights-aligned policies and legislation, training of health professionals, availability of and respect for informed consent to treatment, inclusion in decision-making processes, and public information campaigns. The WHO is leading the global community in this campaign.

It has been observed by the WHO that thousands of people with mental health conditions around the world are deprived of their human rights. They are also discriminated against, stigmatized, and marginalized.

These people are also subjected to emotional and physical abuse in the mental health facilities they live in and communities they belong to. Poor care, due to lack of qualified health professionals and dilapidated facilities, leads to further violations.

The WHO’s message of “dignity in mental health” should resonate among Filipinos.

In the Philippines, people with mental conditions are not given proper medical attention and not adequately served by the national government’s mental health programs and services. This is not to blame anyone but to state the stark reality.

It is in highly urbanized settings where the national government’s mental health programs and services are available, putting those in rural areas in a more disadvantaged position.

Filipinos suffering from mental health issues and challenges have long been neglected, rarely championed passionately and intelligently in national discourse.

But this is a very important issue. A simple scan of mental health related news stories in the past would reveal common and frequently occurring events such as youths committing suicide or expressing a desire to. It is a tragedy that so many young people have ever even considered ending their lives. These cases should alarm national health government officials.

Among the many high profile cases of youth suicides was that of a young and bright television talent. Then there was the student in a state university who committed suicide due to an inability to pay tuition. Another student, accused of plagiarism, chose to end his life. One can just imagine those cases not reported by media, or deliberately hidden by family members for fear of societal backlash. The litany of suicide cases may be much longer.

The urgent question that should be asked is how can legislation and access be improved so that Filipinos, young and old, be extended proper and sufficient medical attention to help them deal with their mental conditions?

The WHO’s 2014 study “Health for the World’s Adolescents,” acknowledged that “depression is the predominant cause of illness and disability for both boys and girls aged 10 to 19 years old.” It also worth noting that, “suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents.”       

Depression is so common that the WHO estimated more than 350 million people across the world, of all ages and from all communities, are battling with it.

A sufferer, former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill colorfully described depression as “a black dog-like phenomenon constantly weighing down on the mind.”

One of the most authoritative reports on the state of mental health system in the Philippines was released by the WHO in 2007, called “The assessment of the mental health system in the Philippines using the World Health Organization – Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems.”

The WHO report said the Philippines has the National Mental Health Policy (Administrative Order No. 8, series of 2001) signed by then Secretary of Health Manuel M. Dayrit. Currently, there is no singular mental health legislation, and the laws that govern the provision of mental health services are contained in various parts of promulgated laws such as the Penal Code, the Magna Carta for Disabled Person, the Family Code, and the Dangerous Drug Act, among others, the WHO said.

The country spends about 5% of the total health budget on mental health and substantial portions of it are spent on the operation and maintenance of mental hospitals, the report said.

While the new health/social insurance scheme covers mental disorders, this coverage is limited to acute inpatient care.

According to the National Statistics Office, “mental illness has been found to be the third most common form of disability in the Philippines in 2000 after visual and hearing impairments, with a prevalence rate of 88 cases per 100,000 population.”

The Department of Health in a report said that the region with the highest prevalence rate of mental illness is Southern Tagalog at 132.9 cases per 100,000 population, followed by National Capital Region at 130.8 per 100,000 and Central Luzon at 88.2 per 100,000.

It is our hope that the most current version of House Bill 5347 (filed by Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Leni Robredo, along with Representatives Barry Gutierrez, Walden Bello, Kaka Bag-ao, Romero Kimbo, Karlo Nograles, and Emmy de Jesus) and Senate Bill 2910 (filed by Senator Pia Cayetano), will be passed very soon. These proposed laws are based on various international human rights standards and aim to protect those suffering from mental health problems from torture, cruelty, discrimination, and degradation. These also aim to provide adequate information, treatment, aftercare, and rehabilitation.

The mental health of all Filipinos should be a priority of this administration and the next.

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