Senator Sonny Angara has joined the calls for the immediate passage of a bill that aims to establish a national mental health policy in the country to ensure that mental health care is made available even to ordinary Filipinos.
In his co-sponsorship speech of Senate Bill 1354, Angara stressed that the government should heed the staggering numbers that comprise the country’s mental health problem.
A 2011 World Health Organization study found that the Philippines had the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia.
Almost one out of every 100 households had a member with a mental disorder, based on a 2004 Department of Health (DOH) survey.
The lawmaker also cited a 2006 DOH study which showed that one in three employees from 20 government agencies in Metro Manila had experienced a mental health problem or breakdown at least once in their lifetime-including specific phobias, alcohol abuse and depression.
“Our numbers are quite dated, pointing to two dimensions of our problem: 1) that our institutions are ill-equipped to keep track and treat the mental health of Filipinos; and 2) that because of this inability, many cases possibly go undiagnosed,” said Angara, one of the authors of the bill.
According to the Philippine Psychiatric Association, there are only 490 psychiatrists serving in the country today or roughly 50 qualified psychiatrists for every 10 million Filipinos.
“Very few of our general practitioners, guidance counselors-not to mention barangay health workers or even jail wardens-are trained on early assessment and management of common mental health problems.
“At times, the only course of action we know is to chain up the mentally ill and isolate them from the rest of society,” the senator added.
The proposed measure aims to institutionalize mental health services as a permanent component of the country’s national health system thereby providing the legal basis for greater investment of public funds in mental health.
By adopting a rights-based approach, the measure also guards against and aims to eliminate any abuse a mentally-ill person might endure in the hands of doctors, nurses, caregivers, community health workers or even from their loved ones.
“Lahat ng Pilipinong may suliranin sa pag-iisip ay may angking galing at talino. May kakayahan at potensyal para makatulong at makapag-ambag sa pag-unlad ng bansa. Nagkataon lang na mayroon silang kakaibang karamdaman o kalagayan na kailangan ng partikular na paggamot at pag-aaruga.
“We ought to pass the mental health act for these people so that we give them and their families the opportunity to hope for better lives,” Angara said.