Mental health: A promise left unfulfilled

STATISTICS culled from the Philippine Statistical Authority hold that
88 cases of psychiatric disorders have been recorded for every 100,000
population in the country.

In 2012, suicide cases swelled to an alarming 2,558 with 78 percent of which were males.

On the other hand, the Department of Health has identified schizophrenia as the top mental health problem in the country based on the recent cohort study, which likewise claims that males were mostly afflicted compared to females.

Pursuant to proclamation no. 452, which has been signed into law by the former President Fidel Ramos in 1994, the National Mental Health Week is celebrated every second week of October in accordance with the observance of the World Mental Health Day every 10th of October.

PN 452 aims to raise public awareness and support for mental health work. It has also triggered more active international communications, which leads to a stronger adaptation worldwide among participating organizations.

Originally, there was PN 432 dated August 12, 1957 that had declared every third week of January as the national observance of the said mental health week.

Meanwhile, mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as a state of well-being where a person can realize his or her own abilities to cope with normal stresses of life and work productively.

Simply put, this definition emphasizes that mental health is not just the absence of psychiatric disorder or illness but a positive state of well-being.

What the country needs is more than just awareness to solve mental health issues that plague its affected population: it needs resources to fund mental health programmes and cultural changes towards a more acceptable approach in providing solutions to mental health problems.

As stated in Section 11 of Article 13 of the Philippine Constitution, “The State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost”.

This implies the need to tap not only the health department but also the polity of our country to help address the issues on mental health.

According to the data from the Labor Department, there are at least 700 psychiatrists and 1,100 psychiatric nurses in the country for the entire population. There is less data available as to the number of psychologists, psychometricians and guidance counselors that serve as front-liners in the field of mental health.

Professional fee for psychiatrists is also an issue. In a random interview among selected psychiatrists in Cagayan de Oro city for instance, consultation fees vary from P500 to P700 among private practitioners. This amount is slightly higher compared to consultation fees billed from specialist physicians from counterpart fields such as internal medicine or obstetrics. Psychiatrists justify that unlike medical doctors specializing in physical diseases, mental health doctors spend more time in interviewing and establishing rapport that can take from minutes to several hours in a single patient.

Related to this is the cost of psychiatric medications. Apart from being costly, these medicines mostly need lifetime supply.

Cultural attitudes toward mental health are likewise an issue as stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions still prevail among the population.

Lastly, there exists no law that directly addresses mental health. There may have been several bills proposed but none has been passed.

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