Assistance to persons with mental illness readied

By Mario Casayuran

The lawmakers held a public hearing last Thursday (May 28) on a measure, Senate Bill 1471, that seeks to amend section 5 of the MHA by inserting a new provision such that the service user shall “immediately receive compensation benefits and/or any special financial assistance that the service user is entitled to under existing laws should the service user sustain temporary or permanent mental disability while in the performance of duty or by reason of his or her office or position.”

The lawmakers are Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, chairman of the Senate health and demography committee, and Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee.

Go presided over a committee hearing to tackle Senate Bill 1471 that seeks to amend Republic Act 11036, or the Mental Health Act.

In a virtual hearing, Go emphasized that people’s mental health should be valued, especially during times of crisis, adding that many individuals these days are experiencing varying forms of depression, particularly among overseas Filipino workers and their families.

Angara, principal author of SB 1471, said that he aims to amend the Mental Health Act after former soldier Winston Ragos was fatally shot by police officers last April 21. Ragos was said to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Si Ragos… He was not able to take his monthly medication. He suffered (some kind of) war shock serving in the military… We’d like to amend Section 5 of the Mental Health Law or Republic 11036 and to add section… Para hindi na po maulit ang mga ganoong insidente kasi ang conclusion seems to be, had he had access to his medicines, perhaps the incident could’ve been prevented and he would’ve acted in a different manner,” Angara said. (So that this incident would not be repeated.)

During the committee hearing, Go asked the resource persons, composed mostly of mental health experts, about the services that are being done to safeguard the people’s psychological wellbeing during the global health crisis, especially for OFWs.

Dr. Napoleon Arevalo said that the mental health hotline launched by the National Center for Mental Health is one initiative that aims to reach out to Filipinos who are suffering from mental health issues during the pandemic.

` Dr. Roland Cortez of the NCMH also added that there has been a sharp increase in calls since the lockdown measures, citing that this is clear evidence that people are experiencing higher levels of stress during the pandemic.

“We have a crisis hotline that is open 24/7…. which is being bombarded with calls. Actually we only had about 60 to 80 calls before the COVID-19 issue. But when we started to have this lockdown, we now have 300-400 calls. Meaning to say, there are a lot of people wanting to communicate with experts in the crisis hotline,” Cortez said.

Cortez also added that the NCMH has been working with other agencies to look after the mental wellbeing of Filipinos, including OFWs in distress who have returned home.

Assistant Secretary Teresita S. Cucueco of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said that they fully support the legislative measure, adding that their agency also helps in alleviating mental health conditions of people at work through compensation benefits.

Aside from the mental health amendment bill filed by Angara, other bills that were also tackled during the same hearing were SB 1132 filed by Senator Ralph Recto, requiring all public hospitals to prepare and implement a hospital site development plan; and SB 1437 of Senator Ramon Revilla and SB 1095 of Senator Manuel Lapid strengthening the regulation of health facilities in the country.