by Merryll Phae Red Carao
A day after Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed Senate Bill 1190 or the Mental Health Bill of 2016, she along with psychology experts and advocates discussed the importance of mental health discourse amidst the rising number of mental illness cases in the Philippines.
In a forum hosted by the UP Psychology Society (UP PsychSoc) at the College of Engineering, University of the Philippines Diliman on Friday, speakers emphasized on the country’s need for a Mental Health Law.
In a speech about her proposed bill, Hontiveros cited that one in five adult Filipinos suffer from a mental or psychiatric disorder, which implies an average of 88 cases of mental illness in 100,000 Filipinos.
“‘Emo,’ ‘malungkutin lang,’ ‘tahimik,’ ‘‘di pala-kaibigan,’ ‘moody,’ ‘masungit,’ ‘mahiyain.’ Sa kabilang dako naman—’hyper,’ ‘sobrang masayahin,’ ‘mainit ang ulo,’ ‘abnormal,’ ‘maluwag ang turnilyo,’ ‘may sayad,’ ‘baliw,’ ‘adik.’ These are some of the labels given to people who have mental health needs,” Hontiveros said.
“These labels, which stem from the lack of understanding on mental health and mental health rights, stigmatize many people including young people, and prevent them from getting the proper treatment out of shame and embarrassment,” she added.
In her proposal, Hontiveros together with former Sen. Letty Shahani, said the Philippines is one of the few countries in the world and the only country in the ASEAN region without an existing Mental Health Law, despite the fact that it has the highest number of depressed people in Southeast Asia, according to a 2014 global report by the World Health Organization (WHO) cited by Hontiveros.
Moreover, young people are at a high risk of mental illness according to the senator. In the same WHO report, it was found that “suicide is the second-leading cause of death globally among people 15 to 29 years of age.”
The WHO report also revealed that leading mental disorders among Filipino youth are depression, anxiety, and mood disorder.
Hontiveros cited another study by the National Youth Commission in 2015 reporting over two out of 10 Filipinos have thought of committing suicide with half of that number having taken attempts to carry out the act.
Such is the condition here in the Philippines, a country ironically listed on August among the happiest places on Earth, according to the Happy Planet Index.
The forum, entitled “Discuss: A Panel Discussion on Mental Health and the Youth,” was an initiative by UP PsychSoc in celebration of the National Mental Health Week.
It was supported by over 40 partners from UP Diliman and other universities, with over 300 participants composed of students and professionals.
The complexity of passing the bill, according to Hontiveros, stems from the country’s inadequacy in resources and facilities when it comes to handling mental health problems.
As of 2014, “Only 490 psychiatrists currently licensed to practice in the Philippines. That’s one for every 200,000 Filipinos,” she said.
MH Bill 1190 is the most updated bill tackling mental health and is the 24th draft of the said bill. The first Mental Health bill, according to Nadera, was proposed in 1989 by then Sen. Orly Mercado.
Aside from enumerating the rights of people with mental health needs, their families, and mental health professionals, MH Bill 1190 also cites the government’s duties and obligations with special focus on the Commision on Human Rights’ (CHR) responsibilities and the provision of community-level mental health care systems.
The objectives of the bill are as follows:
- Strengthen effective leadership and governance for mental health by, among others, formulating, developing, and implementing, national policies, strategies, programs, and regulations relating to mental health;
- Develop and establish a comprehensive, integrated, and efficient national health care system responsive to the psychiatric, neurologic, and psychosocial needs of the Filipino people
- Protects the rights and freedom of persons with psychiatric, neurologic, and psychosocial health needs, and;
- Strengthen information systems, evidence, and research for mental health
Two similar bills had been previously proposed both in the House and the Senate: HB 5347, introduced by former Reps. Leni Gerona-Robredo, Romero Quimbo, Ibarra Gutierrez, Walden Bello, Karlo Alexei Nograles, Kaka Bag-ao and Emmi de Jesus, and SB 2910 proposed by then Sen. Pia Cayetano in 2015 and Loren Legarda in 2014, respectively.
The bills aimed to address mental health problems by integrating mental health with social reintegration with the assistance of the individual’s community. These bills also promote the humane treatment of the individual with mental health problems through campaigns against discrimination.
While there is no legislation yet, there exists a National Mental Health Program signed in 2001 by former Department of Health (DOH) secretary Manuel Dayrit.
The program is “pursued through 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.”
Additionally, a 2006 report by WHO cited in the DOH website says, “Programs of the Department of Health under the Mental Health Policy include the improvement of the promoting of knowledge of mental health, national and local provision of services and facilities regarding the treatment of mental health, support on the research and training on mental health, and other initiatives.”
“It’s time to give, people,” Hontiveros said. “It’s time we give voice to people with mental health needs who are silently suffering in the dark due to a lack of Mental Health Law.”
The invited speakers backed Hontiveros, saying the need for a Mental Health Law is more pressing than ever.
The panel was composed of Dr. Divine Love Salvador from the UP Diliman Department of Psychology, Philippine Psychiatric Association fellow Dr. Dinah Nadera, UP alumna and suicide awareness advocate Shamaine Buencamino and UP Diliman Counseling and Guidance Office Director Dr. Violeta Bautista.
“In terms of content–instead of being too medical, illness and treatment oriented, the proposed bill has become more balanced,” Bautista said. “The older proposed bill focuses mostly on concerns and rights of the mentally ill, which comes to choose only 10 to 15 percent of the population.”
“Kulang, at ‘di napag-usapan nang maayos ‘yong mga nakaraang mga bill,” Nadera said about the challenges in the passing of the past bills.
The psychology professor is also the co-founder of Project Awit, a non-profit organization that focuses on the capacity building of persons with disabilities through the integration of health, education, and the arts.
“It is said that we, the youth, are the future— however, often times, it is the youth that have these bouts of sadness, weakness, and isolation,” event head Claudia Macias said.
“Society oftentimes tells us to put up a facade of being okay all the time. Basically, we always have to look like we have it all together.”
In light of the lack of discourse on the topic of mental health in the Philippines, WHO noted that “raising community awareness and breaking down taboos are important for countries making efforts to prevent suicide.”
Additionally, false assumptions currently surround the topic of mental health in the country, with many presuming that those who have psychiatric needs are simply “crazy” or “unstable.”
In a 2014 interview with GMA News, Jean Gouldbourn, founder of the Natasha Gouldbourn Foundation (NGF), said, “Maraming mga belief ang mga Filipino people—but [this] is not the right information na nakukuha nila. Ang akala nila baliw ang depression. Ang unang-unang kailangan nilang malaman ay…ang depression ay hindi baliw.”
The NGF, a non-profit organization founded after Gouldbourn’s daughter committed suicide, aims to raise “awareness on depression and how one can prevent, recognize or treat this mental illness.”
Similar to the NGF is the Julia Buencamino Project (JB Project), spearheaded by actors Shamaine and Nonie Buencamino, founded after their 15-year-old daughter committed suicide last year.
The Buencaminos, through their daughter’s poetry and art, aim to promote the discussion on mental health and illnesses with the youth as their target audience.
“Okay lang na pag-usapan kung may problema sa loob ng mind mo,” Nonie Buencamino, who also attended the forum to support his wife and to learn more about mental health, said on the hashtag, #LetsTalkAboutIt.
“Sakit lang ‘yan. Parang sipon, parang kanser—kayang gamutin. At ‘di mo kasalanan.”
Nonie Buencamino lauded the student initiative, calling them “very mature” to have taken steps to promote the discussion on mental health, adding that it is imperative for the public to understand that mental health issue encompasses more than the “crazy people.”
“It is not easy to be kind to ourselves,” Salvador said in a closing remark. “We go through our lives and we learn to expect so much from ourselves and we have standards that are so high and we begin to evaluate our worth by those very high standards. And that sometimes has a very negative impact on our mental health— kasi palagi tayong hindi sapat.”
Concluding the forum, UP PsychSoc Vice President for Academic Affairs Guenquen Carado emphasized that mental health concerns are “nothing to be ashamed of,” and that illnesses due to psychiatric needs occur as often as physical disorders.
“These problems are real and we have to do something about them instead of keeping them and ourselves in the dark. There is no health without mental health […] join the conversation and let’s talk about it,” he said.
The Hopeline Project is an initiative by the NGF, which “aims to connect people experiencing deep emotional crisis to counselors and psychologists who can provide mental health first aid.” People who need someone to listen may dial these numbers: (02) 804-HOPE (4673); 0917 558 HOPE (4673); 2919 (toll-free number for all GLOBE and TM subscribers).
#MHActNow is a petition at Change.org supporting the MH Law. It was put up by The Philippine Psychiatric Association, which “aims to protect the rights of people with mental disorders and/or disabilities by putting in place an official body that will oversee the policies and programs that need to be developed to prevent and treat mental illnesses, and to promote the mental health of Filipinos.”
Erratum: In a previous version of this article, Dr. Dinah Nadera was mistakenly listed as a faculty member of the UP Diliman Department of Psychology as pointed out by one of our readers. We apologize for overlooking this matter.