Risa seeks higher budget for NCMH

Published October 29, 2020, 11:33 AM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros supports a higher budget for the National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong City to enable the government to address a looming mental health pandemic.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros
(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Hontiveros lamented that the budget for mental health programs remains “insignificant,” noting the low allocation for mental health programs in the 2021 national budget. The Department of Health earlier reported that at least 3.6 million Filipinos now suffer from mental health disorders.

“Mental health issues cannot be solved in a single session or with a single pill. But the current budget for the NCMH stands at around P350 per Filipino in need, which isn’t enough even for a week’s worth of medication. Kung hindi sapat ang pondo para tugunan ang mental health needs, malulunod tayo sa isa pang pandemya (If funds are insufficient to address mental health needs, we will drown in another pandemic),” said Hontiveros, author of the Mental Health Law.

Though the total budget for mental health had increased, Hontiveros said allocation for critical services under it had been significantly slashed by as much as P500 million.

“I support the DoH in pursuit of a higher budget for mental health. Panahon ito ng (This is a time of) stress, uncertainty, isolation, at gutom (and hunger) and 3.6 million suffering is not only an underreported count, it’s also increasing every day,” she said.

“We need to prepare for, if not completely prevent, a mental health crisis. ‘Wag natin tong gawin (Let’s not treat this as a) new normal,” Hontiveros warned.

The senator pointed out recent reports from the DoH and other agencies showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a “shocking spike in suicides and domestic abuse.”

She also said the NCMH crisis hotline also reported a 100 percent increase in calls, with almost 1,000 calls every month on average since the onset of the lockdown in March. Experts had also earlier warned of a mental health crisis in the midst of a worsening pandemic.

However, despite the extreme demand, the government denied the NCMH P440 million or 50 percent of what it had requested for their Maintenance and Operating Expenses (MOOE).

“The MOOE is crucial in ensuring that services like teletherapy and the crisis hotlines are conducted under optimal working conditions,” she said.

“Mayroon lamang tayong isang psychiatrist kada 100,000 Pilipino. Kulang na kulang ito ngayong dumodoble ang demands for psych services (We only have one psychiatrist for every 100,000 Filipino. We have an insufficient number of experts and yet the demand for psychological services is doubling),” she added.

“We should be studying how to expand these services, not cripple them.”

Hontiveros lamented that the allocation for mental illness-related medicine was only given P84-million, or P23 per Filipino in need or just 50 percent of what the DoH had originally requested.

“MH medication is some of the most expensive maintenance drugs…The consequences of not subsidizing these medicines and services can lead to even higher rates of suicide.”