Shedding light on the topic of mental health

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Avega holds Interactive Session on Mental Health Awareness

Of all factors that lead to a happy life, an individual’s well-being is perhaps the single most important. This refers not only to the simple physical well-being of a fit and healthy body but also to that of a sound and steady mind.

Mental health is an integral part of health. The World Health Organization defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

In the same way that a physical disability like blindness or paralysis can cripple a person for life, so too can mental disorders like depression or schizophrenia. The message is clearly reflected in the mantra used by the WHO: “Indeed, there is no health without mental health.”

In the Philippines, the conversations surrounding mental health have been active again especially when President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11036, otherwise known as the Mental Health Act.

The law aims to establish a national mental health policy directed towards improving the health of the population in schools, workplaces, and communities, underscoring the basic right of all Filipinos to mental health. It also highlights the balanced delivery of mental health services, whether community-based and hospital-based, with more focus on persons with psychiatric, neurologic, and psychosocial health needs, and overcoming society’s attitudinal challenges that they may live free from stigma and discrimination.

Dr. Bernardino A. Vicente, former director of National Center for Mental Health, lauded the Mental Health law for establishing the foundation of mental healthcare in the Philippines and highlighting its significance in the country’s discussion about health.

“One in four families is likely to have at least one member with a behavioral or mental disorder. It’s that common,” Dr. Vicente said in a mental health conference organized by healthcare solutions provider AVEGA.

The most common of the mental disorders in the Philippines are unipolar depressive disorders or depression, bipolar affective disorders, schizophrenia, epilepsy, alcohol and drug disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive & compulsive disorder, panic disorders, primary insomnia.

Also at the conference was the prominent mental health advocate Ari Verzosa, who talked about the signs and symptoms of those suffering from psychiatric disorders. Mr. Verzosa, who also suffers from bipolar disorder, described the experiences of those living with similar conditions, particularly those who commit suicide because of their illnesses.

“Do you remember the World Trade Center? When it got hit? You saw people jumping from the building? Why would you do that? That’s insane, right?” Mr. Verzosa said.

“But the thing is for them, it’s a burning building. It’s coming towards you. Your only alternative is to jump even if you know that jumping cannot help you anyway. And it is the same thing with suicide. For those suffering, it seems like the only option,” he added.

Mr. Verzosa shared some tips on how those with mental illnesses can find hope and support through professional treatment and online support groups. Slowly, he said the conversation about mental health is changing for the better, and reaching out and supporting one another is the surest way to move the conversation forward.

Yet despite all the progress towards the perception of mental health, Dr. Vicente stressed that much more should be done before affected Filipinos can expect the kind of treatment other countries are giving patients. Despite its prevalence among Filipinos, psychiatric disorders still carry the weight of a persistent stigma that serves to ostracize those afflicted.

This is not to mention the difficulties of finding accessible and affordable hospitals, specialists, and medicines treating such illnesses. Currently, there are only around 6000 beds in the Philippines dedicated to the treatment of psychiatric patients, with more than 4000 of them located at the NCMH.

The importance of mental health is magnified in the workplace, where employee engagement and productivity directly affect a company’s performance. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.

As a provider of customized healthcare solutions that adapt and grow with changing needs, AVEGA seeks to support its members’ mental health concerns by working with ComPsych, the global provider of Employee Assistance Programs. It also accredited psychiatric facilities to provide access to organizations who wish to support the mental well-being of their employees.

Moreover, AVEGA launched its ‘#TotalCare’ campaign, which emphasizes that for a person to be holistically well, he/she has to address his/her physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.