By Hannah Torregoza
After the suicide of two well-known global personalities, Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara urged the PhilHealth to cover members’ consultation fees with psychiatrists.
Angara said early intervention and prevention in treating mental illnesses is key to addressing depression, which now afflicts more than 300-million people around the world.
Citing a 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) study, Angara said the Philippines had the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia.
The senator made the call following the recent deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. The deaths of the international bag designer and the American celebrity chef have sparked calls to strengthen mental health policies worldwide.
“Mental and behavioral disorders can lead to impairment in judgment, self-inflicted pain, or worse, suicide. This can be prevented,” Angara said.
“Early intervention through consultation with psychiatrists and proper medication should be readily accessible for ordinary Filipinos,” he stressed.
Angara said the high cost of medical and consultation fees for psychiatrists should not hinder Filipinos to get better access to mental health care.
“Hindi dapat maging hadlang, lalo na sa mga mahihirap, ang malaking gastusin para sila ay magpatingin at magpagamot, (The high cost of consultation fee and treatment should not be a hindrance for our people, especially the poor, to get access to mental health care,” he said.
The lawmaker has been pushing the Senate to expand PhilHealth’s primary care benefit package, which includes free checkups and consultations, laboratory tests, and medicines, for all Filipinos.
Currently, PhilHealth only covers hospitalization brought about by acute attacks of mental and behavioral disorders at a package rate of P7,800. Consultations and medicines are not covered.
Angara said he hopes President Duterte will sign Senate Bill 1354 or the proposed Mental Health Act into law soon. The bill was transmitted to Malacañang on May 21. The senator was one of the coauthors of the measure.
The bill aims to provide basic mental health services down to the barangay level by mandating the Department of Health (DOH) to provide psychiatric services to all regional, provincial and tertiary hospitals, while increasing the capacities of mental health professionals.
“While the government works to make mental health care more affordable and accessible, another challenge is getting Filipinos to overcome stigma,” he pointed out.
“To address this, the bill seeks to integrate mental health programs and policies in schools and workplaces,” he explained further.
He noted that in 2016, the DOH launched a national suicide prevention hotline called HOPELINE in a bid to help people suffering from depression. But the service is limited to answering calls and questions, and referring patients to mental health professionals.
The Philippines, Angara also said, do not have enough psychiatric facilities and psychiatrists. Only 490 psychiatrists or one psychiatrist per 250,000 Filipinos—a far cry from the standard ratio of 1 per 50,000 people—are available as of now.
“Another problem is we do not have enough psychiatric facilities and psychiatrists in the country,” he said.
“Bagama’t isang seryoso at mabigat na suliranin ang pagkakaroon ng mental disorder, malaki pa rin ang kakulangan natin sa tamang pagtugon dito. Huwag na nating hintayin na lumala ang problemang ito sa ating bansa, (Even though having a mental disorder is a very serious problem, there is insufficient mechanisms to address this. Let’s not wait for this problem to go out of hand here in our country),” he emphasized.
“Kailangang tiyakin na ang bawat indibidwal na nakararanas ng depresyon ay napagtutuunan ng kaukulang pansin, binibigyan ng agarang atensyong medikal, at hindi iiwan hanggang sa kanyang tuluyang paggaling,(We need to make sure that every individual suffering from depression is given medical attention, and they should not be left by themselves until they recover),” Angara said.