Why do Filipinos need a mental health law?

Fritzie Rodriguez
Why do Filipinos need a mental health law?
In a country mired by various problems, advocates fear that the government will put mental health on the back burner

MANILA, Philippines – Why do we need a law about mental health (MH)? (READ: Advocates push for national MH law)

Because it is part of one’s human rights.

“Mental health is 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.” – World Health Organization

When people have physical illnesses, they are excused from work and school, and receive care and sympathy. Do people who experience depression get the same treatment?

In the Philippines, they do not, MH advocates say.

“Many of discriminatory acts are unconscious on our part. How many of us laugh and joke about mental illness?” June Lopez of the University of the Philippines said at the #MHActNow forum on Thursday, October 29.

Contrary to what some Filipinos might think, mental illnesses are “highly treatable,” the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA) said.

Back burner

In a country mired by various problems, advocates fear that the government will put mental health on the back burner.

The country’s first Mental Health Act was filed as early as 1989 by then Senator Orlando Mercado; a year later, another version was filed by Senator Jose Lina. 

Nearly a decade later, Executive Order 470 was issued, creating a council for mental health. The PPA, however, argued that no such council exists today since the policy is poorly implemented.

The proposed law seeks to create an active and inclusive council, which will be an attached agency of the Department of Health (DOH). It will address mental health problems through a new “mental healthcare delivery system” and conduct consultations with various stakeholders like patients themselves.

In the succeeding years, there have been at least 16 other bills focusing on mental health, according to Edgardo Tolentino of the PPA. None of them, however, was passed by Congress.

“Aren’t Pinoys one of the happiest people in the world, so the Philippines doesn’t have mental health problems?” Tolentino quipped.

The Philippines has plenty of MH problems, advocates say. Aside from cases of psychiatric conditions, there’s the lack of mental health professionals, facilities, funding, and a national law.

What’s in it?

The most current version of the House Bill was filed by Camarines Sur Third District Representative Leni Robredo, alongside Representatives Barry Gutierrez, Walden Bello, Kaka Bag-ao, Romero Kimbo, Karlo Nograles, and Emmi de Jesus.

Meanwhile, the Senate version of was filed by Senator Pia Cayetano. 

HB 5347 and Senate Bill 2910 – the Philippine Mental Health Act of 2015 – require the government to “uphold the basic right of all Filipinos to mental health and to respect the fundamental rights of people who require mental health services.”

The proposed law is based on various international human rights standards, which the Philippines is a signatory of. It proposes to protect people with mental health problems from torture, cruelty, and degrading treatment.

It also assures that patients receive adequate information, aftercare, and rehabilitation. This includes protection from discrimination in the workplace, schools, homes, and elsewhere. The provision on employment, however, is yet to be fleshed out.

Confidentiality shall be respected at all times, which means that the patient’s information cannot be revealed to anyone except her or his doctor unless completely necessary.

The law will mandate the DOH, the Commission on Human Rights, the Department of Justice, and national and local hospitals to support people with mental health problems.

Mental health services will also be integrated with the primary healthcare system in communities. This means MH services should be available among hospitals down to the barangay level, including training of healthcare workers.

The law proposes to include mental health in health courses in schools as well. 

More than just numbers

In 2006, the Department of Health reported that the number one mental health problem, at least within the National Capital Region, is anxiety. This is followed by alcholism and depression.

The study, which polled government employees in Metro Manila, revealed that 32% of respondents have experienced mental health problems.

In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 16% of Filipino students aged 13 to 15 had “seriously” contemplated suicide in the past year. Meanwhile, 13% had actually attempted suicide.

Anyone can experience a mental health problem and there is nothing wrong with that, advocates remind the public. It could be a form of depression; anxiety; mood, adjustment, dissociative, psychotic, eating, addiction, and personality disorders; or a post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some Filipinos tend to keep it to themselves, out of fear of discrimination. This, however, might only worsen their condition as they delay treatment. Meanwhile, others cannot afford the help they need.

This is why the Philippines needs a Mental Health Law – to ensure that all Filipinos have access to services and information, free of stigma.

The next step, the PPA said, is to continue lobbying for the MH Act in the 17th Congress. But the process will be long and tedious and will need the support of the public. Hence, the need for more Filipinos to be aware. Rappler.com

To support the Mental Health Act and be part of the #MHActNow, you may send your inputs and inquiries to the Philippine Psychiatric Association at philpsych.org@gmail.com.

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