Press Release
September 4, 2020

Bong Go renews plea for greater government attention to mental health consequences of COVID crisis; lauds DepEd psychosocial services

Senator and chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography Christopher "Bong" Go issued a plea to the Department of Health, Department of Labor and Employment and other concerned national government agencies to work together to expand access to free mental health care and psychosocial support services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"With or without COVID-19 pandemic, mental health is very important. Government must make sure that all kinds of psychosocial services and assistances are accessible to our people suffering from all forms of mental health conditions," said Go.

"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 continued.

Go noted that chronic stress, social isolation and economic difficulties are contributing to the development or exacerbation of depression, anxiety and worse, even substance abuse among Filipinos.

The National Center for Mental Health reported a sharp increase in the number of calls it received in its crisis hotline after the imposition of quarantine restrictions last March. The average number of calls per month increased from 400 during May 2019 to February 2020, to 876 during March to August 2020. The top reasons for the calls were anxiety-related concerns, to obtain a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist, and to enquire about pertinent services.

While he praised the NCMH for their efforts, Go expressed worry that mental health disorders remain vastly underreported by patients.

He renewed his call to government to do more to raise awareness about mental health issues; address barriers that discourage people from seeking treatment, such as stigma, access and inconvenience; and expand existing mental health services.

In line with this, he expressed his support for the passage of Senate Bill No. 1471, filed by Sen. Sonny Angara, which seeks to amend Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act.

The proposed measure will enhance Section 5 or the Rights of Service Users and provide Filipinos with mental health conditions immediate access to the compensation benefits and any special financial assistance that they are entitled to under existing laws should they sustain temporary or permanent mental disability while in the performance of their duty.

Go also lauded the Department of Education for the steps it had taken to lend guidance and support struggling teachers, students and their parents, following the first confirmed case of suicide by a child because of the pandemic.

The education department began conducting a series of psychosocial support and training for parents, teachers, school heads and non-teaching personnel in July to help prepare them for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

The department notably worked with humanitarian charitable group Save the Children and a telecom company in launching 'Gabay Bahay: An Online Parenting Series' to help parents in their virtual role of ensuring learning continuing. It also provided online training on giving remote psychological first aid for learners to secondary teachers, school heads and non-teaching personnel.

"In this time of pandemic, we should ensure that mental health is valued, promoted and protected. Aside from physical health, 'yung mental health ay napaka-importante. Marami pong nade-depress dahil sa sitwasyon ngayon. In fact, merong na documented case na ng isang batang estudyante na nagpakamatay dahil sa hirap na dala ng pandemya. Ayaw na nating madagdagan ito," said Go.

"Alagaan din natin ang mga nag-aalaga sa ating mga kabataan--sila, ang mga guro at school officials. Kung maayos ang kanilang mental health condition, mas magagampanan nila ang kanilang mga trabaho. Itinuturing pa naman nating pangalawang magulang ang mga guro ng ating mga anak."

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