June 22, 2018
Advocates, student leaders laud passage of historic Philippine Mental Health Law
MANILA- For 19-year-old student leader PJ Foronda-Tanglao, the recent passage of the Philippine Mental Health Bill into law is a sigh of relief. PJ, who is within the autism spectrum and diagnosed with depression when he was 17, spends at least 3,500 pesos monthly for therapy and medicines.
“Help is really here”, PJ said, echoing the statement of Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros, author and sponsor of the landmark legislation. “The new law will provide government support to persons with mental health needs”, he added. Signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday and reported on Thursday, Republic Act No. 11036 promises to provide better access to mental healthcare in the general health system.
“It is difficult to seek treatment if you are suffering from a mental health need. Lalo na kapag hindi ka nanggaling sa may-kayang pamilya”, PJ shared. He also added that those suffering from mental health illnesses are maltreated, discriminated and stigmatized.
Landmark health legislation
For Psychological Association of the Philippines’ [PAP] Dr. Violeta Bautista, RA 11036 is a landmark law that improves on Filipinos’ healthcare. “There really is no health without mental health”, Bautista said. “Given a law promoting mental health, we can expect the government to help in the treatment not only of diseases like cancer and pneumonia but also of mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia.”, she furthered.
Not a “rich people problem”
Bautista also explained that the new law should improve Filipino’s access to psychosocial services such as therapy and medication. “Currently, access to treatment is enjoyed more by the ‘may-kaya’. This should change because the law recognizes that the need for wellness and treatment are not just ‘rich people’s problems’. They are rights of every Filipino, rich or poor”, she urged.
This law comes at a time when it is most needed. According to the Department of Health and World Health Organization, 7 Filipinos turn to suicide every day and 1 in 5 Filipino adults suffer from a form of mental health concern, the most common of which is depression and schizophrenia.
“The support will come in a form of capacitating more mental health professionals, providing better mental health facilities, as well as government subsidy for treatment and medicines”, according to Philippine Psychiatric Association’s [PPA] Dr. Ed Tolentino.
“Every Filipino, regardless of their financial capacity, will be given better access to mental health services. Barangays will be provided mental health and psychosocial training. Hospitals in the country will be equipped to accommodate the mental health needs of their constituents”, Tolentino added.
Young people and mental health
Hya Bendaña, President of the Ateneo de Manila University Student Council and one of the conveners of Student Action, a Metro Manila-based movement of student councils, said that the law will hopefully end to the string of suicide cases of young people in the country.
“In our consultation with student councils, we hear several cases of suicide due to various reasons. A lot of these could have been prevented if our campuses and institutions were adequately equipped to handle cases of mental illness. Sadly, they're often not,” she lamented.
Cases of depression and suicide among the Filipino youth have been increasing in recent years. PPA’s data report to an increase in suicide incidents and ideation among young adults aged 15 to 24 years old.
“Under this new law, schools and workplaces will be required to develop mental health programs and services”, Bendaña explained.
“Our teachers, together with guidance counselors, parents, and stakeholders, will have to be educated about mental health. Schools and workplaces will have to develop policies and systems for people’s mental wellness. Hopefully, all these efforts will gradually end the stigma against mental illness, because mental health matters. You matter," Bendaña said.
Jonna Roldan of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition [Y4MH] said that the crafting of the implementing rules and regulations or IRR is very crucial for effective implementation. “Although the law prescribes a comprehensive approach to Filipinos’ mental health, advocates must now focus on the crafting of the IRR. The implementing rules and regulations should reflect the genuine spirit of the law”, she urged.
“Us advocates have agreed to be in the crafting of the IRR in every step of the way. Duty-bearers must be in consonance with mental health professionals and persons with mental health needs in order for the law to be effective”, she concluded.