This Christmas season, mental health professionals and advocates await the passage of the Mental Health Law

This Christmas season, mental health professionals and advocates alike have only one thing on their wish list: the passage of a Philippine Mental Health Law, which has been decades in the making. Today’s press conference calls upon the lawmakers to hasten passage of the Philippine Mental Health Law, as well as engage in discourse about the state of the Mental Health Bill, now up for its third and final reading in the House of Representatives.

ATENDEES: Professionals and advocates alike ask for the gift of the Philippine Mental Health Law. Photo credit: Kate Alvarez of SOS Philippines

Different Voices

ADVOCATES: Valene Lagunzad of Buhay Community, Chris Pino of Project LAAN, Rissa Coronel of Silakbo PH and Kate Alvarez of SOS Philippines. Photo credit: Kate Alvarez of SOS Philippines

The panel consisted of Dr. Rene Samaniego and Dr. June Lopez of the Philippine Psychiatric Association, Bong Jizon of Bukas Puso at Isip Support Group and Filipino Families for Mental Health, Bolet Bautista of the Psychological Association of the Philippines, Patrick Wincy Reyes of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition. The discussion was facilitated by Cassie Deluria of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition.

Bong Jizon shared his mental health story and the several difficulties he went through to finally seek proper treatment. “Right now, I’m managing my ups and downs and am more successful now.”

Dr. June Lopez emphasized the disconnect between the stigma and statistics:

Tayo ang hinirang na pang-limang pinakamasayang bansa. So that will tell us that apparently, the Philippines has no mental health problem, but this is not the case and statistics show it. “First of all, global statistics say that one in 20 individuals have mental health problems. The disability impact of mental health disorders is 28%, much higher than other non-communicable diseases. And as far as yung sinasabing kakulangan ng serbisyo para sa mga nangangailangan ay nasa 75-80% for those with mental healthdisorders.”

Patrick Wincy Reyes pointed out that many of us have friends or loved ones suffering from mental health issues, and thanks advocacy groups that spread awareness on them: “It’s a step towards attaining that. You don’t have to be a psychologist to advocate for mental health- you just have to have an open mind and the willingness to be the voice of the unheard… implementing it into law will reach the farthest provinces in ways that are very concrete.”

Dr. Bolet Bautista respectfully asked the help of representatives to pass the long overdue Philippine Mental Health Bill: “When you approve the bill, you give the Filipino people one big, beautiful gift, for it is one that will benefit all Filipinos in a most profound way.”

Mental Health for Everyone

Mental health is not just the absence of illness, nor is it only a matter for people with diagnosed mental health conditions. As defined in the bill, it is “a state of psychosocial well-being in which individuals realize their own abilities adequately with the normal stresses of life, display resilience in the face of extreme life events, work productively and fruitfully, and are able to make positive contributions to the community.”

Community-based prevention programs at the barangay level will be implemented to promote mental wellness, such as meditation, home visits, family support, growth groups, art therapy and dance therapy. It will also promote capacity-building with local mental health workers with facilities and university hospitals.

Dr. Bautista pointed out that the bill is for the protection and promotion of every Filipino:

“The power of the law will lead to the development of mental health services that will promote the well-being Filipinos for thriving of individuals in homes, schools, workplaces and communities. [It] will also lead to the development of more services supporting Filipinos going through all sorts of experiences like migration and marital conflict, life transitions, disaster and even war.”

Key points: the Philippine Mental Health Bill

Awareness alone is not enough: the Philippines is one of the only Southeast Asian countries left without a mental health law.

Some of the mandates of the bill in its current state include: the establishment of a National Mental Health Council to improve access to services and community-based prevention programs, and the accountability of concerned government agencies (e.g. the Department of Health, Department of Justice, Commission on Human Rights). It also mandates the establishment of a complaint mechanism against abuse of individuals with mental health disorders, mental health education programs in all levels, and research support.

The Philippine Mental Health Bill is a rights-based bill, which means it protects both the rights of people with mental health needs, and the rights of all Filipinos. The rights of mental health service users, carers and professionals are articulated in the bill. Substance abuse and drug dependence are also defined as a psychological disorder, making it unjust to criminalize sufferers.

The importance of prevention and community-based programs was also underscored in the press conference. “The budget for mental health mainly goes into hospitals and tertiary care facilities, wherein those who are hospitalized already have severe problems,” Dr. Lopez said.

Also present at the press conference were members of the Philippine Psychiatric Association and Youth for Mental Health Coalition, as well as mental health advocates.

The Comprehensive Mental Health Bill, HB 6452, is expected to undergo its third and final reading once the Congress opens after the ASEAN Summit.

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