Legarda wants stronger Mental Health Care Act implementation amid rising suicide rates
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MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker has sought a more robust implementation of the Mental Health Care Act (MHCA) after official numbers showed suicide incidents increasing by more than half in 2020.
In a statement on Monday, Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda said that the government must work to address the mental health issues of Filipinos, who have struggled to cope with the demands and the problems brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Legarda, who was co-author of Republic Act No. 11036, was referring to a Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data that showed suicide incidents increasing by 57 percent for 2020, compared to 2019.
“The pandemic has highlighted the need to also take care of our mental health to help us survive and thrive despite the current challenges. This is one of the many laws that I passed when I was Senator and these are relevant and helpful in coping with changes caused by the current health crisis,” Legarda said.
“RA 11036 has ushered in a new chapter in mental healthcare policy and service delivery in the Philippines and we should ensure its strict and effective implementation on the integration of mental health in all health services and policy initiatives,” she added.
According to her, despite improving awareness about mental health in recent years, it is still one aspect often neglected by authorities and society.
“Mental health is one aspect in the society that is not given utmost attention. With various societal issues that we are facing, we sometimes neglect to prioritize the mental health of every citizen of this nation without us knowing its effects on people’s day-to-day performance on education, employment, physical health, and even relationships,” she explained.
PSA’s data showed that suicide-related deaths in 2020 were at 4,420, compared to 2019’s 2,810. The report validates the concerns of the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH), who said in August 2020 that they saw an increase in the number of suicide-related calls increase in the first few months of lockdowns due to COVID-19.
The numbers are seen to remain high almost two years into the pandemic, as NCMH observed a high amount of calls from adolescents facing mental health issues.
Legarda claimed that the MHCA, which requires the government to provide more mental health services while ensuring that patients are not discriminated against or ridiculed, has not been implemented fully.
She said she is seeking a policy measure dedicated to “enhancing the delivery of mental health services to the people,” especially since recent studies showed that only around five percent of the whole health budget was allocated to mental health concerns.
“Adding to the woes of those who are suffering from mental health illnesses is the shortage of qualified mental health professionals as well as the stigma being associated with it,” she said.
“This mental health intervention would usher in a new chapter in mental health care policy and service delivery in the Philippines as it would integrate mental health in all health services and policy initiatives,” she added.
Experts have long worried that the COVID-19 pandemic would eventually lead to many mental health issues, as the lockdowns have either left people unable to contact friends and relatives physically or forced people to spend more time at home, leaving them vulnerable to domestic abuse.
Even the Department of Education has noted that mental health would be a primary concern for students shifting to online learning methods. Some of the problems that have arisen about online classes include the lack of teacher-to-student interaction and students’ frustration with not coping with the financial demands of virtual learning.