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· Volume II Issue IV

"Baliw," "may sayad," "luka-luka" are a few of the obnoxious terms that some people repeatedly used to label mentally ill individuals roaming on the streets, the mocking often followed by laughter. It is only one example of Philippine society's pervasive and long-standing disregard for mental health. And as our situation becomes worse because of the COVID-19 pandemic, do you think we should continuously neglect our concerns about mental health?

As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is "a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community." It is determined by a range of socioeconomic, biological, and environmental factors. They also stated that health is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being, not simply the absence of sickness or disability, which means that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. Mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.

Over the years, mental health remains a misunderstood topic in the Philippines. There is a case when a comedian and TV personality, Joey De Leon, said, "Yung depression gawa-gawa lang ng mga tao yan. Gawa nila sa sarili nila," on the noontime entertainment show, Eat Bulaga. The host meant it as a joke, but netizens didn't take it lightly. After that controversial statement of the host towards depression, numerous citizens reacted and criticized him through social media, which led to De Leon's apology for his insensitive remarks. Perhaps, this portrays Filipino's lack of proper information towards mental health. Hence, the social distance between the public and mentally ill people is getting farther.

Indeed, social media somehow paved the way for opening this sensitive matter to the public. We Filipinos seem to disregard the seriousness of the issue and tend to avoid discussing it in our community. We usually think of it as a drama, but it is something that we need to give attention to. Although there may be a few seminars and forums held by the government and private institutions, this is still not enough to educate most of the population on deeply understanding mental illnesses.

There is a wide range of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), which are commonly known to diagnose many Filipinos. It makes them unproductive and inefficient towards work and their relationships with other people. However, many people still lack how to properly cater to these disorders. Although some of us may see these mental illnesses as one, we must assist them in overcoming their condition.

Based on the latest numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO), over 300 million people are suffering from depression worldwide. While here in the Philippines, over six million Filipinos live with anxiety and depressive disorders. According to WHO, approximately 20% of the world's children and adolescents have a mental health condition, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds, killing close to 800,000 people each year. Approximately one in five people in post-conflict settings have a mental health condition. 

Unfortunately, mental health issues may become even worse because of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children. The call to public health actions, like social distancing, is needed to reduce the spread of the virus, but it makes us feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. And because of this burden, the Department of Health (DOH) decided to take extra care regarding our mental health.

Based on WHO, there are effective strategies for preventing mental disorders and alleviating the suffering caused by them. In this matter, access to health and social services capable of providing treatment and social support is the key. Yet, access to healthcare facilities and an insufficient number of skilled human resources for mental health remains the main barriers in providing treatment and care, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Moreover, our country has only one psychiatrist for every 250,000 mentally ill patients, far from the ideal ratio of one to 50, 000 patients. The country's rate of mental health hospitals is 0.002, whereas the rate of hospital beds is 4.486 per 100,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, the rate of people treated in mental health outpatient institutions and mental health day treatment facilities is only 12.25 and 4.35 per 100,000 populations, respectively.

Whilst there is still a significant gap in terms of scaling up mental health in the Philippines, there has been progressed in terms of tackling this issue. The first one is when a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline called Hopeline was launched by the DOH, together with the WHO, and Natasha Goulbourn Foundation. It is phone-based counseling for individuals who suffer from crisis situations and depression. The other one was the Senate Bill 1345 or the Philippine Mental Health Act of 2017 which was passed by the Senate of the Philippines last May 2017. It seeks to integrate mental health services and programs into the public health system. This bill also mandates the government to provide basic mental health services at the community level and psychiatric, psychosocial, and neurologic services in all regional, provincial, and tertiary hospitals.

This clearly shows how we must be open and aware of talking about these problems and why we should not take them lightly. It is a serious problem faced by Filipinos and an issue that must be prioritized. This is a fight not only for people who are diagnosed with such diseases but also for people who will help them get through it.