It took UP Diliman Journalism student Pia Tuan approximately 10 hours of waiting and a missed class before she could see the university psychiatrist.
On an early morning in March 2019, Tuan went to the University Health Service (UHS) to see a psychiatrist, only to be told hours later the slots were already full.
“It’s a first come, first served basis. I went for the first time at around 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning during a weekday…The staff told me na 12 noon pa mamimigay ng slots so I should just come back. When I did, ubos na ‘yung slots,” Tuan said.
The next day, Tuan tried securing a slot again at the UHS despite having an afternoon class and waited for almost five hours, to almost no avail.
“May nauna pa rin sa’kin, kasi may biglang magke-claim na sila yung nauna. Ang daming nakasingit. I had a class din nung afternoon pero nag-absent na lang ako just to get checked. Kaso kahit nung binigyan na kami ng number, nagkagulo pa rin sa pila,” Tuan said.
The university’s sole resident psychiatrist, Dr. Dinah Nadera, is intended to work for only 20 hours a week, according to UHS Acting Director Dr. Jesusa Catabui.
But for a health service that caters to an average of 40 patients weekly, the surge of students seeking psychiatric help forces her to stay much longer.
“Usually ‘pag psychiatric patient, about an hour ‘yun (sessions) kasi titingnan mo lahat, pero on the average, she sees one patient per 30 minutes. Ang dami niyang overtime,” Catabui said.
Aside from the long queue, the UHS acting director sees an increasing trend of students admitted to the emergency room (ER) due to mental health concerns.
“’Yung mga patients with mental issues, or students in distress sa ER , once in a blue moon [dati] ‘yung mga ganon. Pero to [now] see ‘yung mga suicidal patients, one to two patients once a week is already frequent for us,” she said.
Catabui emphasized the shortage of mental health professionals for UP students, considering the university’s lone resident psychiatrist serves over 24,000 enrolled students.
Other UPD mental health services
To address the increasing psychosocial needs of the university, Chancellor Michael Tan formed the UP Diliman Psychosocial Services (UPD PsycServ) in 2017.
UPD PsycServ, which provides mental and psychosocial well-being services, has already catered to more than 1,200 students since its conception.
With 12 Psychological Support Specialists (PSSs) who work part-time, there is currently a two- to three-month waiting list.
The duration of the waiting period was different from when Journalism student Blanch Ancla signed up in 2017.
“I filled out a form. A week later, they got back to me through a text telling me I am to attend an in-take session,” she said.
Ancla was able to take six free sessions from October 2017 to May 2018.
“We had mindfulness sessions and ranting sessions and I had someone helped me navigate my thoughts and emotions. The sessions helped me catch myself, especially when I’m spiraling or when I was spiraling,” she added.
UPD PsycServ Clinic Manager Claudine Tecson noted that from a waiting list of one week that has now turned into at least two months, the demand has significantly increased.
“Despite the lacking resources and facilities, we believe that we are still able to offer the same high level of quality. But with the growing demand, it is the timeliness of providing these services that suffers… If this situation continues, a dip in quality might be inevitable,” Tecson said.
While UPD PsycServ has been receiving support from the UP administration in terms of approval and endorsement of proposals, budget requests, and space requirements, Tecson said that such aid is limited.
The need for more resources pushed the PSSs to submit two proposals for the institutionalization of UPD PsycServ as an office.
Meanwhile, the UP Diliman Office of Counseling and Guidance (OCG) observed a 14 percent decline in students availing of their services from 2017 to 2018.
“Kung makikita mo, bumaba yung rate niya kasi we already have PsycServ, we already have the UHS, our psychiatrist which is Dr. Nadera,” OCG Guidance Specialist Monica de Asis said.
Unlike the system at UHS and UPD PsycServ, de Asis said that the OCG welcomes students with no scheduled appointments.
“Kung available ‘yung counselor, we can accommodate, ‘di na natin kailangan by appointment, so [we] voluntarily talk to them… during the time they are here,” she added.
Mental health issue in the Philippines
Dr. Catabui believes that the issue of mental health should be a national concern.
“So kailangan lahat magco-contribute, not just the hospital, not just health providers para maging holistic ang approach sa isang batang may mental health issue,” she said.
In the Philippines, mental health professionals are lacking, with the Department of Health (DOH) stating there are only 1,000 psychologists and 600 psychiatrists catering to 107 million people.
This is amid the Philippine Mental Health Law, which aims to improve mental healthcare in the country, taking effect since July 2018.
With mental health service providers still scarce, people with similar experiences to Tuan have to struggle with both their mental health issues and the difficulty of seeking help.
The long queues in the UHS, exacerbated by the scarcity in psychiatric personnel, discouraged Tuan from returning.
“I only went there twice or thrice I think kasi nahirapan talaga ako sa queue,” she said.
With the months-long waiting list in PsycServ, the scarcity of mental health professionals in the UHS, and the overall unmet mental health needs of the university, Tuan lost hope in seeking help.
“Until now, wala pa rin akong nakikitang therapist na good enough for me so I just gave up,” Tuan said.
A step forward
With the surge of students with mental health concerns, the UP administration seeks to address the issues regarding mental health services on campus.
The UP Presidential Advisory Council discussed in September the Mental Health Program of the university.
The Health and Wellness program, one of its initial steps, includes the following: hiring/training of mental health professionals, organizing and training teams to respond to mental health cases and crisis, administrative and logistics support for health assessment, database management, documentation of cases, and monitoring system, among others.
The UHS is planning to allot a position for an additional part-time psychiatrist once a slot is vacated, Catabui said.
“Kasi ‘pag mga consultants, it’s hard to get them full-time… they also have their own private practice, so it would be good to have two part-time psychiatrists. At least meron tayong dalawang mapag-re-refer-an na hindi kailangang magbayad ang estudyante,” she added.
The UHS Acting Director also said that Nadera plans to train staff physicians in becoming lifelines who can handle patients in distress.
Nadera believes that, despite deficiencies in resources, the overall mental health climate is promising.
“There is more awareness, increase in acceptance, and slowly better academic accommodations for persons with mental health problems,” she said.
The National Center for Mental Health has a crisis hotline that may be reached through their landline 7989-8727, or mobile number 0917-899-8727.
Other numbers to call are:
Hopeline Philippines at 8804-4673, 09175584673 and 2919 (toll-free for Globe and TM)
UPD University Health Service at 8981-8500 loc. 111/2703
UPD PsycServ at 8981-8500 loc. 2496
UPD Office of Counselling and Guidance at 8981-8500 loc. 4501/4502
Note: This article is a submission for Journalism 102 (News Reporting) class under lecturer Janvic Mateo.