MANILA PHILIPPINES – MOURN the numbers: There are 650 psychiatrists—most of them based in Metro-Manila—that needs to see to the mental health needs of over 100 million Filipinos spread all over 300, 000 square kilometers of the Philippine archipelago.
To cope with such a staggering burden, psychiatrists can seek needful assistance from about a thousand nurses trained in early assessment of common mental health problems.
Mental health practitioners are toughing it out through what seems like a tidal wave of challenges as mental illness causes disability for prolonged periods that affect both the individual and his community.[pq]A 2000 National Statistics Office survey found that there were 88 cases of mental illness for every 100,000 people.[/pq]
Too, the survey showed that mental illness “is the third most common form of disability after visual and hearing impairments.”
Southern Tagalog comprising the Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (Calabarzon) areas emerged with the highest prevalence rate of mental illness with 133 cases for every 100,000 people. Metro Manila was a close second at 130.8 cases per 100,00 population while Central Luzon ranked third at 88.2 per 100,000 people.[pq]A Department of Health-commissioned Social Weather Stations survey in June 2004 found that 0.7 percent of Philippine households has a family member with mental disability.[/pq]
The neglect translates to sorrier demographic: “There are 46 outpatient facilities, 19 community-based psychiatric inpatient facilities, and 15 community residential and custodial care. The only mental hospital, the National Mental Health Center (in Metro Manila) houses 4,200 beds while almost all mental health facilities are located in major cities. Those in the provinces and rural areas are not covered.”
To point up the need to bolster the mental health of Filipinos, immediate past president of the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA) Dr. Edgardo Juan Tolentino cites findings of the World Health Organization (WHO) before a forum of experts from PPA and the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) that “one third of government workers in the National Capital Region have mental health problems. Is it not that it’s more fun in the Philippines? But are we having fun (in that) one of three among civil servants has mental health problems?”
Dr. Tolentino notes that enactment of a mental health law should be made a priority as such legislation stems from “an increasing understanding of the personal, social and economic burdens of mental health disorders worldwide.”
The 2014 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Shanghai plied out a six-year road map to promote mental wellness in the region in cognizance of mental health as vital component to “overall health, social and economic well-being, workplace productivity, and sustainable economic growth for the region.”
“After Shanghai, we will adopt similar concepts on the importance of mental health. Yet, we do not have in place a mental health law,” he rues.
PPA had plowed through 73 executive orders and pertinent laws—63 of these cover children often lumped with issues on women; 54 have implications on mental health. And while the Philippines has been a signatory to global covenants that work out strategies for mental health of populations, “there is no single legislation which addresses mental health as a primary topic,” Dr. Tolentino laments.
Since 1989, there have been at least 16 to 17 bills filed in Congress with mental health as primary focus. To-date, we have no mental health act in place. It does not prosper, no one seems to be interested, which is which why we are now raising a clamor for the passage of one. Most of these bills were not known outside legislators and a few stakeholders. We are threshing out what we want; we studied the highlights, what should be embodied in the law. And we formulated, we asked lawyers to help us. Then we came up with the first draft, second draft, and now we are at version 19,” he relates.
Unfazed by the apathy, PPA remains upbeat to get the legislation in place: “We need to spread the word! Use traditional and social media to make a difference! We have launched our ad campaign and we need you to help us make it go viral. Write, post in your media outfit, to your FB/Twitter/You Tube or get involved in blogs. We must ‘speak for people who cannot speak for themselves, protect the rights of all who are hopeless.”
The Greek ideal mens sana in corpore sano in mind, St. Augustine must have been moved to aver: “The mind is the image of God, in that it is capable of Him and can be partaker of Him.”
And thus, efforts to push through with a law that cherishes the mind’s well-being envision “a community of Filipinos who are mentally healthy. And when we say ‘mental,’ that includes emotional, social, and spiritual wellness,” Dr. Tolentino says.
– Dong delos Reyes, Medical Observer