Mental health now


After years of lobbying for the national government to focus on suicide as a silent killer, we now have more legislators as well as agencies other than the Department of Health (DOH), paying closer attention to mental health.

The stigma on mental health problems has seemed to have been defenestrated - at least in the upper half of the socio- economic spectrum- with the recent popularity if not the norm of seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. But sessions with private practitioners are pricey, and mental health issues are not special to any given socio-economic class.

It is high time that the DOH allocate additional funding to include treatment of mental health problems. At least we see the pro-active effort of the state-owned insurance corporation, PhilHealth “to  improve the implementation of the Universal Health Care program” by adding in its agenda mental health programs.

Dr. Albert Domingo of PhilHealth says, “We want the primary care to be owned and paid for by the Department of Health thru the additional fund appropriation by Congress and made available by the Department of Budget and Management. This [additional funding] should be on top or separate from the budget for insurance premiums.”

Mental health conditions do not happen overnight. Studies show that they are rooted in childhood. This makes it more urgent as it most likely affects what PhilHealth deals with when it comes to primary care at the adult stage.

This fact is just one of the several determinants of mental health issues. At the forefront of raising mental health awareness in the Philippines are women.  Google “mental health Philippines” and the names Jerika Ejercito, Antoinette Taus and Kylie Verzosa are the first ones to appear with news from as far back as 2017. Is it because women are naturally more “vocal” or “emotional” or just more resilient?

When it comes to resiliency, the  Medical Journal of Australia has published that while women tend to be more  frail, (they) are more resilient and have longer life expectancy than men.”

Countless studies have revealed that women likewise use  emotion-focused coping strategies to manage stressors that are more associated with depression and anxiety than men [Mezulis et al., 2002]. Some studies even point to estrogen as the reason why females are more resilient to chronic stress. Given all these female factors, at the end of the day, it is noteworthy that there are more Filipino women relentlessly advancing the cause of mental health.  Homemaker and entrepreneur Sheila Suntay became a staunch mental health advocate after losing her eldest son Renzo. While parents regardless of gender suffer the same grief over a loss of a child, this tragic experience impelled   Sheila to be a mother-figure to other children going through mental health conditions.

Sheila founded YOLO by Renzo Suntay to allow his legacy to live on.  “My role in YOLO now is to share my story and remind people who are struggling that they’re not alone, and that there is a real road to healing,” Sheila says.

Mental health advocates can pave the road to healing for those suffering from mental health issues, but on a larger scale, we need laws to ensure long-term change and action. Although the Philippines has an existing law ( RA 11036 or the Philippine Mental Health Law), proper implementation seems to still be greatly lacking considering the rise in school violence as well as suicide attempts.

Another hot topic coming in the conversation is the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Department of National Defense officer-in-charge Carlito Galvez Jr.  believes that the program is  a “cure for mental health” by  “strengthening character and resilience” of trainees. He believes in survival instinct and that one’s tolerance to frustration will be high so that mental health problems can be cured. There are opposing views on this.
In reality, further  and more in-depth research on the matter must be studied, but the recent pro-activeness of various sectors to include mental health in discussions is already a win. From increasing mental health awareness only a few years back to stimulating mobilization and action that we actually see now. The next crucial step is to raise  political awareness for our policy makers and politicians so they can craft what our unique society needs and not only what they grew up to know as such. Circumstances may have slightly changed then and now but the constant variable through the years and the process of alleviating the status of mental health to national levels are the women- from actresses, models to homemakers all survivors wanting to create more survivors.