Initiated by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) in 1992, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), and observed in over 95 countries, World Mental Health Day is a reminder that our happiness is essential to a healthy economy just as a healthy economy is essential to happiness.
Happiness is a crude definition, but it does describe the state of mental and emotional wellbeing that allows people to find meaning, inspiration, and rewards in keeping themselves productive, in maintaining social relationships, and in coping with the normal stresses of life.
The pandemic, with its direct impact on jobs, finances, social interactions, and life evaluations, as well as perspectives on what the future may have in store, is a magnifying glass on the strengths and weaknesses of being human. The cruelty of COVID-19, with the rise and fall of its death toll and the sweeping changes it has imposed on us, has put us all in prolonged grief not only over losing friends and family members who have succumbed to the infection but also over the end of life as we know it.
In a special edition of WHO’s World Happiness Report 2021, based on data measuring the impact of COVID-19 on people’s happiness, Finland made it to the top, followed by Iceland and Denmark. All three are Scandinavian countries, as are Sweden, number six, and Norway, number eight. The other countries in the top 10 slots are, in order, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, and Austria. In the context of COVID-19, many factors came to play, including the age of the population, proximity to highly infected countries, or whether the country was landlocked or an island, but the key factor was the people’s trust in each other and in their public institutions, particularly their governments.
The Philippines is 76th on this list of 95 countries. According to the Department of Health, at least 3.6 million Filipinos suffer from at least one kind of mental, neurological, or substance use disorder. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has reported that mental disorder, affecting roughly six million Filipinos, is the third most prevalent form of morbidity. Earlier this year, it also reported a spike in registered deaths due to intentional harm, which jumped to 4,420 in 2020 from 2,810 in 2019.
Mental health legislation is fairly new in our country. Republic Act No. 11036, the Philippine Mental Health Act, which protects patients from discrimination and from cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment as well as gives them the right to informed consent, to participate in their treatment, and to aftercare and rehabilitation, among others, was signed into law only in 2018. We have a long way to go.
Today, as we observe World Mental Health Day, we should go beyond awareness. As much as it is a crusade against social stigma, let this day sound the call for more inclusive and accessible national mental health policies and action plans.
Helping the mentally ill, who cannot help themselves, may be the opportunity those who wish to be of service to this country need to earn our trust and make us a happier people in the process.