Manila Bulletin

Ad­dress­ing men­tal health amid a pan­demic

- SEN­A­TOR SONNY AN­GARA E-mail: sen­son­nyan­gara@ya­hoo. com| Face­book, Twit­ter & In­sta­gram: @son­nyan­gara Health · Public Health · Anxiety · Mental Health · Medicine · Society · Discrimination · Depression · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Human Rights · United Kingdom Department of Health · New Doha International Airport · Quezon City · Manila · Metro Manila · World Health Organization · Juan Edgardo Angara · Mental Health Association

Men­tal health has his­tor­i­cally been a dif­fi­cult sub­ject to talk about in Philip­pine so­ci­ety. Many of us, no doubt, have our own sto­ries, per­sonal or oth­er­wise, of how dif­fi­cult it is to seek help. In fact, in the jour­nal So­cial Psy­chi­a­try and Psy­chi­atric Epi­demi­ol­ogy, an Au­gust, 2020, anal­y­sis of many stud­ies on the mat­ter con­firmed that the low uti­liza­tion of men­tal health ser­vices among Filipinos could be at­trib­uted in part to the stigma as­so­ci­ated with men­tal health is­sues, with re­silience and self-re­liance be­com­ing pos­si­ble al­ter­nate cop­ing strate­gies.

Un­for­tu­nately, the COVID-19 pan­demic has made men­tal health an even big­ger is­sue. The quar­an­tine, the eco­nomic ef­fects of the pan­demic, and the anx­i­eties brought about by the virus’ un­pre­dictabil­ity have had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the men­tal health of many Filipinos. Al­though we as a coun­try are con­sis­tently rated to be in the Top 5 of a global op­ti­mism in­dex, ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of Health (DOH), the calls for help have been in­creas­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­ter for Men­tal Health (NCMH), their helpline re­ceived about 400 calls monthly from May, 2019, to Fe­bru­ary, 2020. That’s an av­er­age of 13 to 15 calls daily. By March, 672 calls were ser­viced, and this grew steadily in the fol­low­ing months, un­til there were 1,034 calls in July – and 440 for the half of Au­gust. These dou­ble the monthly av­er­age from March to Au­gust to 876 calls, or 32 to 37 calls daily.

Many gov­ern­ment and pri­vate men­tal health ser­vices are avail­able for peo­ple who are seek­ing help or just some­one to talk to. Aside from the NCMH cri­sis hot­line, the Natasha Goul­bourn Foun­da­tion has con­fi­den­tial cri­sis lines and a re­fer­ral sys­tem to part­nered psy­chol­o­gists. The foun­da­tion is also a hub for preven­tion, recog­ni­tion, and treat­ment of de­pres­sion. The Philip­pine Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion also offers sim­i­lar ser­vices, and univer­si­ties like UST, UP Dil­i­man, and Ate­neo de Manila have their own men­tal health service or­ga­ni­za­tions. Some, like Ate­neo’s Cen­ter for Fam­ily Min­istries have af­ford­able or ne­go­tiable fees. On­line re­sources like the Si­lakbo.Ph web­site have list­ings for many other men­tal health service providers out­side of the NCR. In fact, many or­ga­ni­za­tions have al­ready part­nered with the DOH; per­haps more of them should be in­vited to the ta­ble to plan new poli­cies, projects, and ini­tia­tives that will ad­dress the grow­ing num­ber of men­tal health cases.

The DOH is also en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to learn more about gen­eral men­tal health through free e-learn­ing cour­ses trans­lated into Filipino. The source ma­te­rial is from the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s (WHO) Qual­ity Rights ini­tia­tive, which is a global project that aims to help par­tic­i­pants im­prove their own men­tal health, learn how to sup­port their loved ones and com­mu­ni­ties, and gain knowl­edge and skills to tackle men­tal health is­sues.

Clearly, we need to re­assess and adapt to the fact that more Filipinos are now look­ing for men­tal health ser­vices and treat­ments. This is why

I am seek­ing to amend Repub­lic Act 11036, the Men­tal

Health Act, par­tic­u­larly its chap­ter on “Rights of Service Users and Other Stake­hold­ers.” Our pro­posed amend­ment seeks to give health service users the right to im­me­di­ately re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion ben­e­fits and spe­cial fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance they are en­ti­tled to un­der law, should they sus­tain tem­po­rary or per­ma­nent men­tal dis­abil­ity in the line of duty or by rea­son of a per­son’s of­fice or po­si­tion. This is an im­por­tant amend­ment, as the Men­tal Health Act re­quires that Phil­Health pro­vide in­sur­ance pack­ages to pa­tients with men­tal health con­di­tions, and that ac­cess to medicines is en­sured.

With the ob­ser­va­tion of World Men­tal Health Day last Oc­to­ber 10, it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the DOH’s theme for this year, “Men­tal Health for All: Uni­fy­ing Voices for Greater In­vest­ment and Ac­cess.” This theme en­cour­ages that we open con­ver­sa­tions on the var­i­ous chal­lenges that our men­tal health care sys­tem faces ev­ery day, such as so­cial stigma and lim­ited fund­ing.

In fact, the sim­ple act of mark­ing the day it­self is im­por­tant. It shows those who are suf­fer­ing that we see them, and care for them. It tells oth­ers who are hid­ing their is­sues that it is per­fectly nor­mal to seek help. And most of all, it en­cour­ages the whole world to stand in sol­i­dar­ity in recog­ni­tion of the need for all of so­ci­ety to help those with men­tal health is­sues.

Sen­a­tor Sonny An­gara has been in public service for 16 years — 9 years as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Lone Dis­trict of Aurora, and 7 as sen­a­tor. He has au­thored and spon­sored more than 200 laws. He is cur­rently serv­ing his sec­ond term in the Se­nate.

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