By Vanne Terrazola
The National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) has observed a spike in the number of Filipinos suffering from mental health conditions since the government imposed lockdowns due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
NCMH director Dr. Roland Cortez told the Senate health committee on May 28, Thursday, that the hospital’s 24/7 helpline has been flooded with individuals seeking mental health intervention after the restrictions were enforced to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“When we did the lockdown starting last March, the NCMH, we noticed that [our] crisis hotline, operated 24/7, was actually being bombarded with calls,” Cortez said when asked by Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara during the hearing.
From 60 to 80 calls monthly before the COVID-19 lockdowns, the NCMH now receives 300 to 400 calls per month, mostly from people who suffer from anxiety and depression
“Meaning to say that there are a lot of people [who want] to communicate with experts that we [have] placed in the crisis hotline, that was mostly due to anxiety and depression because of the quarantine, the lockdown that has been going on,” he said.
The NCMH has also been coordinating with the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) in dealing with overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been experiencing mental health problems.
“We can simply say, based on our existing data, that there are lot of problems that are being experienced by our people due to this lockdown,” Cortez said.
The government started implementing a community quarantine in Metro Manila on March, which expanded to other regions of the country, as cases of COVID-19 infections increased.
The Senate health committee was discussing Angara’s Senate Bill No. 1471, which seeks to amend Republic Act No. 11036 (or the Mental Health Act), to provide “immediate” compensation or special financial assistance for private and public workers, including uniformed personnel, should they sustain mental health problems in the performance of duty.
Angara cited as an example the case of former soldier Winston Ragos, who was killed by a policeman near a quarantine checkpoint last April, following a confrontation triggered by “mean looks.”
It was found that Ragos suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the time he served under the military.
“Para hindi na sana maulit ‘yong mga ganoong klaseng mga insidente kasi ang (So that similar incidents would be prevented, because the) conclusion seems to be that [Ragos] had access to his medicines, perhaps the incident could have been prevented and he could’ve acted in a different manner,” Angara said.
Officials from the Department of Health (DOH), the NCMH, Department of Labor and Employment, other concerned and stakeholders expressed support for the Senate bill.
Those who are struggling with mental health conditions and wish to seek professional help may contact the NCMH’s 24/7 crisis helpline at 0917-899-8727 (USAP) and 989 8727 (USAP).
They may also call Hopeline Philippine’s 24/7 hotlines: 0917-558-4673 (Globe), 0918-873-4673 (Smart), 02-88044673 (PLDT), and 2919 (toll-free for Globe and TM).