ALARMED by the unprecedented increase in the country’s suicide rate, House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda on Monday, October 11, called for stronger government measures to address mental health issues of Filipinos during this pandemic.
The three-time senator specifically sought a more aggressive implementation of Republic Act (RA) No. 11036 or the Mental Health Care Act (MHCA) that she co-authored during her previous term in the Senate in 2018.
Legarda cited the need to strengthen MHCA, which seeks to provide affordable and accessible mental health services for Filipinos suffering from mental disabilities, to prevent cases of self-induced harm, after latest Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data showed a whopping 57-percent increase in the country’s suicide rate in 2020 compared to the preceding year.
“The pandemic has highlighted the need to also take care of our mental health to help us survive and thrive despite the current challenges. This is one of the many laws that I passed when I was Senator and these are relevant and helpful in coping with changes caused by the current health crisis. RA 11036 has ushered in a new chapter in mental healthcare policy and service delivery in the Philippines and we should ensure its strict and effective implementation on the integration of mental heath in all health services and policy initiatives,” the Antique congresswoman stressed.
“Mental health is one aspect in the society that is not given utmost attention. With various societal issues that we are facing, we sometimes neglect to prioritize the mental health of every citizen of this nation without us knowing its effects on people’s day-to-day performance on education, employment, physical health and even relationships,” she pointed out.
According to PSA data, a total of 4,420 people died in the country due to self-inflicted harm last year, compared to 2,810 deaths in 2019. Suicide also jumped in the list of top causes of death in the Philippines, from 31st place in 2019 to 25th place last year.
The National Center for Mental Health also saw a huge spike in the number of calls made to its hotlines since lockdowns were enforced in much of the country at the beginning of the pandemic in March.
From just 400 calls monthly, the NCMH said it received an average of over 700 calls per month from March to August 2020.
Legarda lamented how MCHA has not been fully utilized in addressing mental health problems of Filipinos.
“Adding to the woes of those who are suffering from mental health illnesses is the shortage of qualified mental health professionals as well as the stigma being associated with it. This mental health intervention would usher in a new chapter in mental health care policy and service delivery in the Philippines as it would integrate mental health in all health services and policy initiatives,” she argued.
Under said Act, the Philippine Council for Mental Health shall be established as an attached agency under the DOH, to provide for a coherent, rational and unified response to mental health problems, concerns and efforts through the formulation and implementation of the National Mental Health Care Delivery System.
The system shall constitute a quality mental health care program, through the development of efficient and effective structures, systems and mechanisms that will ensure equitable, accessible, affordable, appropriate, efficient and effective delivery of mental health care to all its stakeholders by qualified, competent, compassionate and ethical mental health professionals and mental health workers.
Legarda made the proposal as the nation marked the World Mental Health Day last Sunday, October 10, with the theme, “Mental Health in an Unequal World.”
As co-author of the law, Legarda sought a policy measure that was dedicated to enhancing the delivery of mental health services to the people. Mental health and wellness is an integral part of the Philippine health care system, as she saw the growing number of mental disabilities that were left untreated due to lack of facilities, and the want of physicians who are trained to specialize in the treatment of these mental conditions.
In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 2,558 cases of Filipinos committing suicide, averaging to 7 cases per day. Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) reported that 1 in 5 Filipino adults suffers from mental illness, such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.
Legarda further bared that, according to a recent study by Nicholle Maravilla and Myles Tan on RA 11036, “even after the country has recently passed its first Mental Health Act and Universal Health Care Law, only 5% of the healthcare expenditure is directed toward mental health. Also, there are only 7.76 hospital beds and 0.41 psychiatrists per 100,000 people.”
The Deputy Speaker’s growing concern for these statistics, led her to ensure the bill’s passage, as she saw the need for the government to promote mental health awareness, and ensure that no Filipino suffers from the dreaded impacts of mental disorder.