Editorial: Grassroots wellness

CRY FOR HELP. Health officials say the 4.5 million cases of depression reported in 2004 may be a case of underreporting. Barangays need to activate community-based mental health facilities to educate and respond better to the needs of persons and families on mental health. (File Foto)

WOULD you seek help if you were depressed? How do you recognize depression from just sadness and tiredness?

Sam found it harder to leave her room as more days passed since she dropped out of high school. Each day, as Sam watches family and neighbors leave for school and work, she doubts if she can ever step outside her home again. At the same time, she wants to be somewhere else but at home.

Concerns relating to mental health are misunderstood sometimes by those closest to the person they ironically want to help. A mental health professional is the most appropriate person to consult. However, many reasons, such as lack of resources for professional help and the bias that mental illness is inherited and inescapable, prevent many Filipinos from seeking help in mental health.

Barangay Lahug is the first local government to attempt bringing mental health education and interventions to the community. Last Feb. 15, the country’s first barangay behavioral health unit (BBHU) was launched, reported Mae Fhel Gom-os, University of San Jose-Recoletos intern, on SunStar Cebu.

The report said that, in activating the BBHU, Lahug chief Hazel Ann Muaña-Empleo and program director Manuel Chiong de los Santos aim to raise the awareness of mental health in families, emphasizing the wellness of body and mind for a holistic approach and countering the stigmatizing associations with mental illness and abnormality.

Passed on Feb. 12, 2018, the Mental Health Act (Republic Act 11036) mandates the Department of Health (DOH) to fund and assist local government units (LGUs) in the operationalization of community-based mental health care facilities, which should have the appropriate office or clinic and complement of mental health and appropriate professionals, trained barangay health workers, support staff, supplies and medicine.

The LGU must explore linkages with other community stakeholders, such as universities offering Psychology and related disciplines, to tap interns, volunteers and others skilled and committed to assist the BBHU in carrying out its program among the households in Lahug: education; support and treatment, limited to diagnosis; crisis intervention; and referral system.

Mental health services must meet the requirements set by the Mental Health Act: be based on medical and scientific research; respond to the “clinical, gender, cultural, ethnic and other special needs” of the clients; be conducted in an appropriate and “least restrictive” setting; consider the age of the client; and emphasize the accountability of mental health professionals and workers.

Depression, suicide and other mental health concerns are widely discussed online, indicating an unmet need for information, clarifications and counselling. Hopeline, a 24/7 crisis support hotline the DOH launched in 2016, was accessed by thousands of persons dealing with stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

However, netizens later complained that calls beyond office hours to the Hopeline were unanswered and some responders came across as “apathetic,” reported Rappler on Oct. 10, 2017. In June 2019, the DOH admitted it could not continue funding Hopeline.

Activating the BBHU is the right step as there is an existing network of health professionals that work closely and have earned the confidence and trust of local residents. Local crises require specific responses, such as post-disaster and drug rehabilitation.

Supplementing the barangay team with mental health professionals and providing training on mental health to barangay health workers, volunteers and residents may be more sustainable in spreading the crucial awareness of the balance of body and mind to enable better responses to the “priority mental health conditions” reported by Rappler as “psychosis, depression, dementia, epilepsy, child and adolescent mental health problems, substance abuse and other emotionally significant medical conditions like anxiety and anorexia.”


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