President Duterte Signs Mental Health Law

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday signed Republic Act No. 11036, also known as the Philippine Mental Health Act, into law.

Under the new law, the government will create a roadmap for the inclusion of mental health services as part of the public healthcare system in the Philippines.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who authored and served as the principal sponsor of the bill from the Senate side, lauded the victory as the first step toward providing Filipinos with easier access to mental health services.

“One in five Filipino adults also suffer from a form of mental disorder,” the senator said in a statement. “The Mental Health Law cements the government’s commitment to a more holistic approach to healthcare: without sound mental health there can be no genuine physical health.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III principally authored the bill. Meanwhile, Senators Loren Legarda, Sonny Trillanes, Bam Aquino, Sonny Angara, and Joel Villanueva served as its co-authors.

Mental health care is for everyone

Now that the Mental Health Act is officially a law, mental health care is now a priority of the government under their mandate to ensure the general welfare of the public. This includes “comprehensive, integrated, and efficient national mental health care system responsive to the psychiatric, neurologic, and psychosocial needs of the Filipino people.”

What does this mean? For starters, every person will soon have access to various services under the law from their respective barangays. People can just go to their local health centers for their needs, from checkups to diagnosis to aftercare and rehabilitation.

In addition, regional, provincial, and national hospitals will also become better equipped in dealing with these issues.

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Mental health education will also become a priority in schools and workplaces, teaching people that they no longer have to feel ashamed of seeking professional treatment due to the stigma of such cases. Future patients will have their rights protected and discrimination based on their mental issues will no longer be tolerated.

The Department of Health (DOH) will oversee that the provisions of the law, which will be implemented in related agencies. Eventually, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PHIC) will start offering insurance packages that will cover the cost of consultation, medicine, intervention, and prevention of mental health issues.

Under the Mental Health act, people who fail to get the consent of patients, violate the confidentiality clause, discriminate on people with mental health conditions, and practice inhumane and unscientific treatment to patients shall be jailed between six months and two years and slapped with a fine of up to P200,000.

The government will still work on the implementing rules and regulations on how to practically put the legislation into concrete action. However, expect affordable mental health services to be available to the public in the near future.

The old way

How exactly does the Philippines deal with mental health conditions prior to the enactment of the law?

Before the enactment of the law, there was no centralized, government-sponsored way for people to get treatment for their mental health conditions.

Although the country has its share of national mental health institutions like the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) in Mandaluyong, Philippine General Hospital Psychiatric Ward, and others, they’re inadequately equipped in dealing with the silent crisis.

For people who are far more privileged, private institutions like the University of Santo Tomas, the Medical City, Makati Medical Center, and others have their own psychiatric wards. Unfortunately, their rates are often not affordable to the general public.

Public mental health institutions like the NCMH charge people with P400 for consultations—and it just goes up from there. Every session is billed and it gets more expensive once a person requires admission already.

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The old price and stigma

For private hospitals, the charges are more expensive per session, with some professionals charging up to P3,000 per consultation. To ensure that you’ll be getting the right amount of mental health care, you’ll be required to visit them at least once or twice a month.

Medication for mental health conditions can also pretty steep for you average Pinoy. Escitalopram oxalate, one of the many common prescription drugs issued to mental health patients, can range from P20 to P150 per tablet. Branded medicines like Prozac and Cymbalta can be more expensive.

Finally, there’s the public perception about mental health conditions that make it difficult for people to get help.

Pinoys still often label mental illnesses with dismissive remarks like “the sickness of only the rich” and “something you can get over with.” We even use the catch-all word baliw to cover all bases of the issue without going into the specifics.

In 2007, a joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and DOH revealed that the latter only spends five percent of its budget on mental health. In addition, there were only 3.47 mental health professionals for every 100,000 Filipinos.

With the Mental Health Act paving the way toward a more powerful approach in the overall mental health of the Filipinos, expect more support from the government in the silent plague that has been haunting people from the shadows.

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