Philippines passes first mental health bill in the country

May 3, 2017

The Philippine Senate has approved the country’s first mental health policy that seeks to integrate mental health services and programs in the public health system.

Senate Bill No. 1354, or the Philippine Mental Health Law, mandates the government to put up basic mental health services at the community level. It also seeks the establishment of psychiatric, psychosocial and neurologic services in all regional, provincial, and tertiary hospitals.

The measure also seeks to provide proper health care to people suffering from depression and to save patients contemplating suicide.

People with mental health issues usually face stigma, and treatment options are limited in the country.

Majority of mental health facilities are in the National Capital Region, “making access to mental health facilities is uneven across the country, favoring those living near the main cities,” according to a 2011 study by the World Health Organization (WHO). The same study cited the dismal number of practicing psychiatrists, with only 0.38 health professionals per 100,000 Filipinos.

“We hear stories of people spiraling into destructive depression because of the lack of social support and the delay in accessing treatment for fear of being ostracized,” Hontiveros lamented.

Philippines had the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia, according to the same study.

Senator Sonny Angara, who also co-sponsored SBN 1354, meanwhile noted that one out of every 100 household had a family member with mental disorder, based on a 2004 Department of Health (DOH) – Social Weather Station (SWS) survey.

Angara also cited a 2006 study by the Department of Health which revealed that across 20 government agencies in Metro Manila, one in three employees had experienced a mental health problem or breakdown at least once in their lifetime, including phobias, alcohol abuse, and depression.

Medication for anxiety and depression may also be expensive to most Filipinos.

“Our institutions are ill-equipped to keep track and treat the mental health of our kababayans[fellow citizens] and because of this inability, many cases possibly go undiagnosed,” Angara said.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health said it was allotting more than Php1 billion in funding for mental health projects in 2017, the highest in the history of the agency.

Secretary Paulyn Ubial said they set a Php100-million budget for medicine access program for anti-psychotics or mental health drugs. The DOH also allotted Php1 billion for the upgrade and development of mental health facilities across the country.

The bill, authored by Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros, was approved with 19 affirmative votes, zero negative votes, and no abstention.Aside from Hontiveros, the bill was also co-authored by Senate majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III, and Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Antonio Trillanes IV, Bam Aquino, Loren Legarda, and Joel Villanueva.

“This is a historic day for all of us. After being one of the few countries left without a mental health policy, we are now closer to realizing a national mental health law to comprehensively address the Filipinos’ mental health needs and ensure that our rights as persons with mental health concerns are protected and secured,” Hontiveros said.


Category: Community, Features

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