Legarda pushes wider focus on mental health amid 57% hike in suicide count

October 12, 2021

AS suicide cases rise by 57 percent in the Philippines, a House deputy speaker on Monday called for aggressive government measures to address mental health issues confronting some Filipinos amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alarmed by an unprecedented rise in the country’s suicide rate, House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda sought stronger implementation of Republic Act (RA) 11036 or the Mental Health Care Act (MHCA).

Legarda, one of the authors of RA 11036, cited the need to strengthen MHCA, which seeks to provide affordable and accessible mental health services for Filipinos suffering from mental disabilities and prevent cases of self-induced harm.

October 10 has been declared as this year’s World Mental Health Day, with the theme, “Mental Health in an Unequal World.”

Citing latest Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, Legarda reported a whopping 57 percent climb in the country’s suicide rate in 2020 compared to the previous year.

The PSA reported that a total of 4,420 people died in the country due to self-inflicted harm last year, compared to 2,810 deaths in 2019. Suicide also jumped on the list of top causes of deaths in the Philippines, from 31st place in 2019 to 25th place last year.

“The pandemic has highlighted the need to also take care of our mental health to help us survive and thrive despite the current challenges. This is one of the many laws that I passed when I was senator and these are relevant and helpful in coping with changes caused by the current health crisis. RA 11036 has ushered in a new chapter in mental health-care policy and service delivery in the Philippines and we should ensure its strict and effective implementation on the integration of mental heath in all health services and policy initiatives,” the Antique lawmaker said.

“Mental health is one aspect in the society that is not given utmost attention. With various societal issues that we are facing, we sometimes neglect to prioritize the mental health of every citizen of this nation without us knowing its effects on people’s day-to-day performance on education, employment, physical health and even relationships,” she added.

According to Legarda, the National Center for Mental Health also saw a huge spike in the number of calls to its hotlines since lockdowns were enforced in much of the country at the beginning of the pandemic in March.

From just 400 calls monthly, NCMH reported it received an average of over 700 calls per month from March to August 2020.

Legarda lamented how MCHA has not been fully utilized in addressing mental health problems of Filipinos.

“Adding to the woes of those who are suffering from mental health illnesses is the shortage of qualified mental health professionals as well as the stigma being associated with it. This mental health intervention would usher in a new chapter in mental health-care policy and service delivery in the Philippines as it would integrate mental health in all health services and policy initiatives,” she said.

Under the said law, the Philippine Council for Mental Health shall be established as an attached agency under the Department of Health (DOH) to provide a coherent, rational and unified response to mental health problems, concerns and efforts through the formulation and implementation of the National Mental Health Care Delivery System.

The system shall constitute a quality mental health-care program through the development of efficient and effective structures, systems and mechanisms that will ensure equitable, accessible, affordable, appropriate, efficient and effective delivery of mental health care to all its stakeholders by qualified, competent, compassionate and ethical mental health professionals and mental health workers.

In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 2,558 cases of Filipinos committing suicide, averaging to 7 cases per day. Meanwhile, DOH reported that one in five Filipino adult suffers from mental illness, such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.

Low expenditure

Meanwhile, Legarda, citing a recent study by Nicholle Maravilla and Myles Tan on RA 11036, said “even after the country has recently passed its first Mental Health Act and Universal Health Care Law, only 5 percent of the health-care expenditure is directed toward mental health.

“Also, there are only 7.76 hospital beds and 0.41 psychiatrists per 100,000 people,” she said.

With this, Legarda said, mental health and wellness is an integral part of the Philippine health-care system, as she saw the growing number of mental disabilities that were left untreated due to lack of facilities, and the shortage of physicians who are trained to specialize in the treatment of these mental conditions.

The deputy speaker’s growing concern for these statistics led her to ensure the measure’s passage, as she saw the need for the government to promote mental health awareness, and ensure that no Filipino suffers from the dreaded impacts of mental disorder.

Source: Business Mirror

by Jovee Marie dela Cruz