Go urges DOH to improve mental health system as suicides increase due to COVID

Published September 16, 2020, 10:19 AM

by Mario Casayuran

Senator Christopher “Bong” T. Go on Wednesday issued an urgent call to the Department of Health (DOH) to improve suicide awareness among specific demographic sectors, particularly rural communities and the youth, following an increase in suicide rates. 

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go (OFFICE OF SEN. BONG GO / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Sana magkaroon ng mas malawak na program ang in-charge na agency sa suicide awareness. In a span of one month, marami pa ang nagpakamatay sa amin sa province kesa sa namatay sa coronavirus disease (COVID-19). It’s really alarming kasi mga bata pa ang karamihan,’’ Go said. (I hope that the concerned agency will come up with a wider program on suicide awareness. In a span of one month, in the province alone, there are more suicide deaths than those who died from COVID-19. It’s really alarming because most of those who committed suicide were young people.)

Experts warned that the overall stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial strain it has caused had ushered in a second pandemic of mental illness and suicides.

Unemployment, debt, isolation, and anxiety are some of various external conditions that can induce high levels of stress which, in turn, can cause and worsen mental health problems. 

“Following the imposition of community quarantine measures to contain the pandemic, many small farmers and fisherfolk, as well as informal workers have had their daily earnings reduced or had lost their livelihoods. Rural areas, in particular, present many challenges for suicide prevention, including poor access to behavioral health care providers and mental health facilities,” Go said. 

“Ang mental health issue ay hindi lang naman tungkol sa mga nag-suicide. Worst case na iyan. Karamihan sa mga mental health concerns natin ay ang anxiety, stress, and depression caused by the pandemic. Dahil hindi na nakakalabas ng bahay, marami ay nalulungkot. Marami ang nawalan ng trabaho, hindi alam kung saan kukunin ang pambili ng pagkain, mga gamit sa blended schooling, katulad ng laptop, at pambayad sa tuition,’’ he added.  (The mental health issue is not limited to suicide, That’s the worst case. Most of our mental health concerns are anxiety, stress, and depression caused by the pandemic. Since they stayed at home, they’re lonely. Many people have lost their jobs. They don’t know where to get the money to buy food, things needed for blended schooling such as laptops, and for tuition fees.) 

Go expressed concern that the mental health system remains under-funded and many Filipinos who have been receiving mental health treatment prior to the pandemic have likely been cut off from such services in areas under community quarantine.

He reiterated his plea to the DOH and other concerned national agencies, such as the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), to prioritize expanding access to mental health care and psychosocial support services.

He encouraged the national agencies to take advantage of online platforms (e.g. social media) and other technologies (e.g. mobile applications) through which they may provide free mental health services. 

Under Republic Act (RA) 11036, also known as the Mental Health Act, the DOH is mandated to develop and implement a national mental health program and, in coordination with relevant government agencies, improve awareness and promote effective strategies regarding mental health care. 

Go cited that primary mental health services are now integrated into basic health services and offered at the city, municipal, and barangay levels. The national government, through the DOH, is directed to fund the establishment of community-based mental health care facilities in provinces, cities, and clusters of municipalities based on the needs of the population.

The legislation also directs educational institutions such as schools, to adopt pertinent policies and programs addressing mental health issues among their students, teachers, and non-teaching staff. 

The senator from Davao had earlier praised the Department of Education (DepEd) for developing a series of psychosocial support and training to prepare parents, teachers, school heads, and non-teaching personnel for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. 

The department launched an online training series to educate parents on their new roles in their children’s education as well as a second training series for secondary teachers, school heads, and non-teaching personnel on giving remote psychological first aid to learners. 

“With or without COVID-19, napaka-importante ng health, ng kalusugan po ng bawat Pilipino (health is very important, the health of every Filipino). Let me reiterate, let us learn from this pandemic and work together to strengthen our health care system and to better provide quality health care to our people,” Go said.

Go also assured the public that the Duterte administration will always prioritize the welfare of the poor and vulnerable sectors.

He appealed to citizens to continue to cooperate with authorities and show compassion to fellow Filipinos in order to overcome the ongoing crisis as one united nation.

“Magbayanihan po tayo at magmalasakit sa ating kapwa. Konting tiis lang po. Huwag kayo mawalan ng pag-asa dahil ginagawa namin ni Pangulong Duterte ang lahat ng aming makakaya para matulungan kayo (Let’s be compassionate to our fellowmen. Just be patient. Don’t despair because President Duterte and I are doing everything to help you),” Go appealed, adding that once a COVID-19 vaccine is made available, the government must ensure access to poor and vulnerable sectors. 

“Uunahin po namin palagi ang mga mahihirap. Ako naman po, bisyo ko ang magserbisyo, handa po akong magsilbi sa inyo lalo na sa oras ng inyong pangangailangan. Bukas po ang opisina ko para mapakinggan ang inyong hinaing at mabigyan ng solusyon ang inyong pang araw-araw na suliranin,’’ he added. (We will always prioritize the poor. My only vice is to serve. I am ready to serve you in times of your needs. My office is open to listen to your concerns and to provide solutions to your daily problems).