SCARCE budget, the lack of an enabling law and dedicated manpower had hampered public awareness on mental health problems, which in 2007 the World Health Organization (WHO) warned could be a “top burden of diseases among adults by 2030.”
Health experts, especially from the Department of Health (DOH), “should give importance to these components that could contribute in the campaign of helping Filipinos afflicted with mental health disorders cope with their situation and erase the stigma attached to the disease by the public,” a source told The Manila Times.
The WHO defines mental health as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her own community.
Carolina Uno-Rayco said legislation and budgetary allocation specifically for mental health are direly needed. She is project manager of the Philippine Mental Health Association (PMHA), a non-government organization.
She noted, however, some government initiatives to promote mental health such as the establishment of a National Mental Health Policy through Administrative Order (AO) 8 of 2007 and the Senate Bill (SB) 3509 or the National mental Health Act of 2009.
AO 8 of DOH in 2007 declared the policy of pursuing a mental health program strategy prioritizing the promotion of mental health, protection of the rights and freedom of persons with mental diseases and the reduction of the burden and consequences of mental ill health, mental and brain disorders and disabilities.
SB 3509 or the National Mental Health Act of 2009 aimed to render available, accessible, affordable ·and equitable quality mental health care and services to the Filipinos especially the poor, the underserved and high- risk populations. But since filing the bill, it never pushed through, Rayco said.
She also stressed the slow progress in the implementation of mental health-related research initiatives, particularly the troubles in consolidating efforts and collating reports of different mental health advocacy groups.
The WHO Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (AIMS) of 2007 took note of the absence of mental health legislation and laws governing the provision of mental health services that are part of promulgated laws like the Penal Code, Magna Carta for Disabled Person, Family Code, and the Dangerous Drug Act, etc.
Rayco said “if there is budget for [mental health], we could have more people with us doing these things.”
She explained that such budget would help both DOH and mental health advocacy groups like PMHA to train more health workers, to reach out to more people across the country, and to teach them about the importance of mental health.
The WHO-AIMS report said that “the Philippines spends 5 percent of the total health budget on mental health and substantial portions of it are spent on the operation and maintenance of mental hospitals.”
The DOH budget for 2014 is P80.17 billion but the bulk is spent on health programs for the cure and prevention of communicable diseases, or the visible diseases.
Rayco stressed the importance of educating both the people suffering from mental illnesses and the people surrounding them.
She said another WHO report entitled “The Global Burden of Disease” cited that “unipolar depressive disorders”—also called “clinical depression,” characterized by a pervasive and persistent extreme sadness—could be the top burden of disease among adults in the world by the year 2030.
She said PMHA had been responding to such challenge through their programs like: institution- and community-based education programs (orientations and lectures in schools, offices and villages); intervention efforts among patients and their families; and psychological assessment and treatment of patients with severe mental health disorders on an outpatient basis.
She stressed that family, friends, the media and the general public play a greater role in helping the patients cope with their illnesses and in removing the shame that has been linked to having mental disorders.
The Times columnist Soong Phoon last week wrote about Mental illness and stigmatization, where the author said “the medical gaze, the media, and some segments of the public continue to judge those that exhibit behavioral problems, as “unacceptable” in the same way.”
“Perhaps stigmatizers themselves should be confined and educated,” the column added.
Rayco explained that patients of mental disorders suffer the most because: (1) once their brain and the entire nervous system malfunction, the whole body is already affected and (2) these patients are outcast for their uncommon attitudes and behavior.
“We must recognize that seeking help and support from family, friends and mental health professionals are important to lessen their negative thoughts and to make them feel more positive about themselves,” she added. “There is no better way to accept that one has a problem on his mental health than to seek help.”