Mental health in a pandemic
Even before COVID-19 killed nearly 3,000 Filipinos, destroyed livelihoods and sent the economy into recession, mental health experts had already sounded the alarm about rising cases of depression and calls registered in suicide hotlines.
After five months of quarantine, it’s not surprising that calls for help have increased from those who are suffering from severe stress. Mobility restrictions and involuntary confinement in one’s home are aggravated by the loss of income and the inability to provide for one’s family.
Roland Cortez, director of the National Center for Mental Health, had said before he and his driver were murdered in July that calls on the NCMH suicide prevention hotline had jumped amid the lockdown. The Catholic Church has also reported receiving more cases of people needing mental, emotional and spiritual help in this unprecedented public health crisis.
The problem has drawn the attention even of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. Having recognized the problem, the IATF can mobilize government resources to give more attention to this aspect of public health.
Republic Act 11036, passed in 2018, aims to boost the delivery of “integrated” psychiatric, neurologic and psychosocial health services. As part of national policy, every Filipino has a right to mental health.
A major problem in achieving the objectives of the law is the lack of qualified personnel to deal with mental health problems. The country lacks psychiatrists, psychologists and even trained personnel who can man suicide prevention hotlines. The effort is augmented by volunteers in non-government organizations, which have their own hotlines, but the services are still not enough. The Catholic Church and other religious groups also provide spiritual counseling for troubled individuals.
As the COVID crisis drags on and the health and financial problems of people deepen, the need for mental health services will grow. The national and local governments can work with the private sector, NGOs and religious groups to enhance responses to mental health issues. In this pandemic, depression and other mental health problems also threaten lives and cannot be ignored.