Press Release
May 2, 2017

Senate pushes for mental health law

The Senate approved today on third and final reading a bill which seeks to integrate mental health services into the national health system to make it more accessible, affordable and equitable.

Senate Bill No. 1354 or the Mental Health Act of 2017 was approved with 19 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and no abstention. The bill was authored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Tito Sotto and Senators Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros, Sonny Angara, Sonny Trillanes, Bam Aquino, Loren Legarda and Joel Villanueva.

"This is a historic day for all of us. After being one of the few countries left without a mental health policy, we are now closer to realizing a national mental health law to comprehensively address the Filipinos' mental health needs and ensure that our rights as persons with mental health concerns are protected and secured," Hontiveros, sponsor of the bill, said.

The Philippines is one of the very few countries that did not have a mental health law, Sotto, a co-sponsor of the proposed measure, added.

While mental health was a critical public health issue, Hontiveros said, inadequate attention had been given to it. She said data and information on mental health were outdated and the capacity of health care delivery system to respond to patients with mental health conditions was severely lacking.

For instance, she said, the ratio of mental health worker per population in the Philippines was only two per 100,000 population. In comparison, Malaysia has 4.9 mental health workers per 100,000 population while Indonesia has 3.1 per 100,000 population.

Hontiveros cited a World Health Organization study which showed that a person committed suicide every 40 seconds. In the Philippines, she said, the 2010 national census estimated that of the 1.4 million Filipinos with disabilities, 14 percent or over 200,000 persons were found to have mental disabilities or disorders.

Sotto said two to three million Filipinos suffered from mental health problems but a big part of them were not being reported due to the stigma attached to their condition.

Another 2011 study by WHO showed that the Philippines had the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia. Senator Sonny Angara, who also co-sponsored SBN 1354, said a 2004 Department of Health (DOH) - Social Weather Station (SWS) survey showed that almost one out of every 100 household had a family member with mental disorder.

According to Angara, a 2006 DOH study of the prevalence of mental health problems in the National Capital Region revealed that across 20 government agencies in Metro Manila, one in three employees, or 32 percent of 327 respondents, had experienced a mental health problem or breakdown at least once in their lifetime. These include specific phobias, alcohol abuse and depression.

"Our institutions are ill-equipped to keep track and treat the mental health of our kababayans and because of this inability, many cases possibly go undiagnosed," Angara said.

"We hear stories of people spiralling into destructive depression because of the lack of social support and the delay in accessing treatment for fear of being ostracized," Hontiveros added.

Hontiveros said the bill proposed an appropriation of five percent of the incremental revenues from the excise tax on tobacco and alcohol products to secure the necessary resources for the implementation of the measure.

The bill proposes for the integration of mental health services into the primary health care system at the community level and mandates mental health services to be made available at this level as well as the strengthening of the capacity of tertiary regional and provincial hospitals in providing psychiatric, psycho-social and neurologic services.

The bill also seeks the integration of mental health promotion in educational institutions as well as the workplace to address the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health.

It provides for the capacity building, reorientation, and training of mental health professionals and health workers and provides punishment of imprisonment of less than six months to two years a fine of P10,000 to 200,000 for the violation of the proposed measure. (Leah Zarragoza/OJT)

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