Advocates seek budget for mental health

By Leilani Junio

November 8, 2017, 6:34 pm

MANILA – Advocates have asked Congress to hasten the passage of the proposed Philippine Mental Health Law and to include specific budgetary provisions to ensure its successful implementation.

Citing global statistics, Dr. June Lopez of the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA) said one in 20 individuals is suffering from mental problems.

"The disability of mental health disorder is at 28 percent, much, much higher than any non-communicable disease, than cardiovascular diseases," Lopez said.

She also cited that 75 percent to 85 percent of patients lack treatment services.

"Kaya, kailangang-kailangan talaga natin ng isang batas na maglalayong gawing importanteng prayoridad ang pangkalusugang pangkaisipan ng mamayang Pilipino (We urgently need a law that would make mental health a priority in the country)," Lopez said, describing the bill as rights-based because it promotes the right of every Filipino to have a healthy mind.

"Pangalawa, kinikilala niya ang lahat ng karapatan ng may problema sa pag-iisip, lalung-lalo na yung kanilang access to services that are needed and to ensure that they will not receive inhumane treatment due to their condition (Secondly, the bill recognizes the right of those with mental health issues, especially their access to services that are needed and to ensure that they will not receive inhumane treatment due to their condition)," she said.

Lopez added that the bill stresses the importance of preventing mental illnesses and community-based programs.

As of now, she said, most of the funds spent for treatment go directly to tertiary health care, which means most of the patients are already in the "severe stages" of mental illness.

"Kaya importante na ilagay ang malaking porsyento ng anumang ilalaang kaperahan sa batas na ito tungo sa pag-iwas sa mga problema sa isip (It is thus important to set aside a big percentage of the bill’s budget allocation for the prevention of mental illnesses)," she added.

Bong Jison, a mental health patient, advocate of the Alliance of Filipino Families for Mental Health and member of the Bukas Puso Support Group, said in an interview that they are looking forward to the passage of the bill as it would help reduce the cost of treatment, as well as promote psychosocial rehabilitation as part of a holistic treatment.

The 45-year-old patient said he has spent a lot on his own on occupational therapy, psycho-therapy, art therapy, voice workshop and other activities that contribute to his treatment.

"Lahat ito ay may gastos, at ako ay fininance ng mother ko, naka-support sa kin. Kasi di sapat medicines lang. Ang support group nakatulong (All these come at a cost, and my mother helped finance my treatment. She is supportive of me. Medicines are not enough. Support groups helped a lot)," he added.

Jison recalled that his symptoms began in 1989 when he was in first year college.

"In 1991, I had my first breakdown. So my parents decided to take me to a psychiatrist for the first time, wherein I was given psychiatric drugs," he said, adding that at that time, no diagnosis was given to him and as a consequence, he had to stop school for a year.

He later went on to finish his AB Psychology and was able to work for a while.

However, in 1996, he had a relapse and he was brought to a private hospital, where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and with a chemical imbalance.

Jison said that back then, his medicines cost about PHP10,000 a month, excluding other medical procedures whenever he had a relapse.

In December 2003, he began seeking treatment at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila. In 2004, he joined a family support group that gave him a chance to "regain his confidence" and establish "new sets of friends" who are facing the same situation, enabling them to cope together.

He said it was then that he was able to regain some normalcy in his life as he learned to engage in different activities, including selling products of Boardwalk and St. Peter Life Plan, as a way to earn.

At present, Jison said he is dedicating his time and effort to the advocacy group, apart from acting as a commentator during Sunday masses in their parish.

With the support group, he said he has been able to manage his "ups and downs" quite successfully and the incidence of relapse has been reduced, the last one being in 2009.

Dr. Rene Samaniego of PPA said the primary goal of the Philippine Mental Health Bill is to deliver psychiatric, psychological, and psycho-social services to all Filipinos.

It also targets outpatients, Samaniego said.

"At the moment, the Philippine Health Insurance System (PhilHealth) only covers inpatient services. So this (proposed) mental health law also targets outpatients - wider coverage for patient services," he said.

The bill is scheduled for third reading in Congress, which will reconvene in the third week of November. (PNA)