Is the Philippines ready to address mental health?

AT A GLANCE

 

 

MANILA, Philippines – “No one is spared” from the possibility of suffering from mental illness.

This is the clear message mental health experts are sending to the public. Mental illnesses can cut across all professions and ages, and affect even those who care for patients with mental health issues themselves. 

The problem is one that carries a heavy burden as the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that by 2030, mental disorders will account for 13% of the total global burden of diseases. 

“Everyone is on alert,” said psychiatrist Dr Dinah Nadera of the University of the Philippines Diliman Infirmary and president of non-governmental organization Foundation Awit in an interview with Rappler.

The risks apply to the Philippines as well. Experts told Rappler mental illnesses and suicide cases among the youth have increased in the last few years. 

In 2004, over 4.5 million cases of depression were reported in the Philippines, according to the Department of Health (DOH). Suicide cases in the Philippines recorded by the WHO in 2012 also reported over 2,000 cases from 2000 to 2012. Majority of those who died by suicide were between 15 to 29 years old.

Fast forward to the present, the numbers are most likely much higher since many who suffer from depression often hesitate to seek help due to the stigma that surrounds mental disorders. The same can also be said for those who attempt suicide. 

This begs the question: is the Philippines ready to seriously address mental health? 

RIGHTS. Experts say recognizing the fundamental right to mental health services will help to lessen stigma around mental illnesses.

Crucial mental health law

According to experts, whether or not the Philippines effectively addresses the growing health concern will depend on how well the recently signed Mental Health Act will be implemented. The DOH, along with health professionals and civic groups, are still finalizing the law’s implementing rules and regulations. 

Hailed by mental health advocates as a “major victory,” President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the landmark bill in June 2018. The Philippines was one of the last few countries in the world without a mental health law, though several bills were proposed as early as the 1980s.

But apart from the nearly 30 years it took to become law, Republic Act 11036 is praised for being the first legislation to recognize the fundamental right of all Filipinos to mental health services.  

“(The) Mental Health Law would aim to bring mental health closer to the everyday lives of the youth,” said Dr Constantine Chua, chief resident of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine. 

Crucial parts of the law include the government’s responsibility in promoting the well-being of people, which would be done by ensuring the value, promotion, and protection of mental health. 

According to experts, this is important as it can lessen the stigma around mental health and ensure the access and delivery of mental health services to every Filipino.

The law also aims to ensure that delivery of, and access to psychiatric, psychosocial, and neurologic services happens in regional, provincial, and tertiary hospitals. Apart from this, the law also supports the presence of mental health services embedded in school systems and the teaching of mental health in all education levels.

Another salient feature of the law shifts focus of care to the community. For Nadera, this is crucial as this is where “true recovery happens.” 

Successful implementation

But how exactly will we be able to gauge the law's success once it is fully implemented?

Ideally, the offshoot would be the presence of mental health services at the primary health care setting such as in barangay health stations and not just hospitals, Chua said.

Adequate training of teachers and officials in mental health knowledge as well as mental health programs should also be required in schools and the workplace. 

"Our general practitioners, doctors, nurses, teachers being taught the mental health dimensions of their work adequately...those are measures or goals of the mental health law and when we achieve those things, the mental health law is doing its purpose," Chua said. 

Mental health advocates also hope that with the implementation of the mental health law, more people would be enticed to become practicing psychiatrists. Currently there are roughly only 600 in the whole country for a population of nearly 100 million. 

According to Nadera, success would also mean less reports of violence or human rights violations against persons with mental health problems. Mental heath policies and services should also be made available to vulnerable sectors. These include Filipinos working abroad in maritime and service industries, as well as those who are victims of disasters.

WELLNESS. Mental health also means having the best cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social state.

Not just doctors

With limited capacity to tackle mental health fully, experts said fighting the rise in mental illnesses and suicide cases among the youth will need to be taken up by everyone. (READ: [OPINYON] Kasama tayo sa laban para sa mental health)

The shared exposure to mental disorders puts everyone at risk. This will mean each will have a role to play in trying to boost preventive efforts against developing mental illnesses.

“Mental health is not just the role of doctors or clinical psychologists…. The whole community will really play a role” - Dr Constantine Chua, chief resident of the PGH Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine

“When we say mental health, it’s not really just having or not having a psychiatric diagnosis but it’s enjoying the best cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social state in which you can have a fulfilling life and a community,” Chua said.

For youth and adults alike, experts suggest fostering a healthy lifestyle that allots time for rest and leisure. It also means having balanced self-expectations, learning how to ask for help, and making the effort to stay connected with other people.  

“Having healthy and meaningful relationships…where you are accepted by people, where you are listened to is actually the best protective factor,” Chua said. Balderrama likewise agreed that having healthy relationships is good as these provide crucial support systems for those with mental health disorders.  

Parents and teachers, for their part, should also focus on preventive efforts – such as being equipped with knowledge about mental health – as this could strengthen children and prevent them from developing full-blown mental disorders. 

“Mental health is not just the role of doctors or clinical psychologists….The whole community will really play a role – that includes the family, the teachers, the students themselves,” Chua said. – Rappler.com

In the Philippines, the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation has a depression and suicide prevention hotline to help those secretly suffering from depression. The numbers to call are ‎804-4673 and ‎0917-558-4673. Globe and TM subscribers may call the toll-free number 2919. More information is available on its website.

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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