The need for a mental health law

‘Mentally ill patients subject to cruel inhuman treatment’

By MYLENE C. ORILLO

WE’VE heard stories of mentally ill people found in cages. Many of them have not seen a doctor in their whole lives.

Filipinos are one of the happiest people in the world, but based on a Global School Based Health Survey in 2011, 16 percent of students with ages 13-15 have seriously considered attempting suicide; while 13 percent have actually considered attempting suicide one or more times.

The incidence of suicide in males increased from 0.23 to 3.59 per 100,000 between 1984 and 2005 while rates rose from 0.12 to 1.09 per 100,000 in females.

Almost one per 100 households (0.7 percent) has a member with mental disability and intentional self-harm is the 9th leading cause of death among 20-24 years old.

A study conducted by the Department of Health as well as among government employees in Metro Manila revealed that 32 percent out of 327 respondents have experienced a mental health problem in their lifetime.

Inadequate resources for mental health

According to Dr. Edgardo Tolentino, Jr. of the Philippine Psychiatric Association, there are only 650 psychiatrists and over 1,000 nurses working in the psychiatric care, which are not enough to meet the mental health needs of 100 million Filipinos.

“Even less number of general practitioner trained on early assessment and management of common mental health problem in the community, addiction specialists, psychologists, occupational therapists, guidance counselors, and social workers,” said Dr. Tolentino.

There are only two mental hospitals, 46, outpatient facilities, four day treatment facilities, 19 community-based psychiatric inpatient facilities, and 15 community residential (custodial home-care) facilities for the whole country.

“The only mental hospital in the National Capital Region houses 4,200 beds, while almost all mental health facilities are located in major cities,” said Dr. Tolentino.

Philippine Mental Health Act

Dr. June Lopez, PPA member, said that the Philippines remains one of the few countries in the region and the world without a National Mental Health Law.

“No access to it. We need to strictly regulate and come up with standards. Mentally ill patients are subject to cruel inhuman treatment,” said Dr. Lopez.

He added that 75 percent of countries around the world have mental health legislation.

“We need to legislate about mental health. Everyone has a right to appropriate health care,” he added.

The Philippine Mental Health Act (PMHA) or House Bill 5347 is the first-ever mental health legislation sponsored by the PPA.

It is a unique legislation in that the proposed legislation was championed by fundamental stakeholders, such as the mental health professionals and allied groups, patients and families, civic organizations, educators, lawyers, the media, pharmaceuticals, and public health insurance.

The fundamental aim of mental health legislation is to protect, promote, and improve the lives and mental well-being of citizens.

“This is not only the interest of any health group but the whole country. Time has come to finally prioritize the mental needs of the Philippines. This is not a controversial bill. There’s no health without mental health. Not only physical health,” said Dr. Tolentino.

According to Dr. Lopez, the problem is stigmatization. We tend to minimize the problem or hide it. If they get the sufficient treatment is another question.

“Mental illness is not limited to ‘baliw’. Crazy people are danger to the society and danger to the family. Patong patong ang disaster hindi natin na-process ‘yung mga taong apektado nun.Until now, they’re crying. We don’t have provisions for that,” emphasized Dr. Lopez.

He added: “The Philippines ranks number three in the disaster prone countries and yet we don’t give attention to mental health. What happens if we face another disaster? The biggest is having Filipino not having the right mind.”

Call to public

Dr. Tolentino reported that since 1989, there have been at least 16 bills filed with mental as primary focus, but to date, no Mental Health Act is in place.

“These are mostly initiated by legislators. Some failed because stakeholders were not united in the face of Congress/Senate hearing or did not support the bill when called for public hearings. Most of these bills were not know outside legislators and few stakeholders. Thus, they didn’t have popular support,” he said.

The PPA launched the website, MHActNow.org, enjoining advocates and the general public to show their support for the said legislation, at its link: change.org.

This is further reinforced by regular posts at the PPA’s social media sites Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

“We need to connect with all the legislators we know and ask them to support the ‘Mental Health Act’. This draft was initiated by all of US here and beyond – the stakeholders,” said Dr. Tolentino.

Vital Signs Issue 74 Vol. 4, April 1-31 2015

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