Philippines Report

Go urges gov’t to tackle mental health concerns

COVID-19

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Tuesday appealed to the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to bolster efforts to extend psychosocial assistance to individuals struggling with mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and other more serious psychological issues.

“In this time of pandemic, we should also ensure that mental health is valued, promoted and protected. Aside from physical health, ‘yung mental health, napaka-importante rin po,” Go said. (Mental health is a very important too.)

Go, chairman of the Senate health and demography committee, noted the ongoing pandemic and subsequent disease-containment responses have created conditions that are taking a toll on the mental health of many adults and children.

’Public measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, can cause loneliness and fear in people which in turn increases anxiety and stress. Moreover, people receiving mental health services before the pandemic may have been cut off in areas under community quarantine,’’ he explained.

“Marami pong nade-depress dahil sa sitwasyon ngayon. In fact, nakakalungkot ang mga OFWs natin, napakatagal na napalayo sa kanilang pamilya. Alam ninyo, hindi nababayaran ‘yung lungkot. Napakahirap mapalayo sa pamilya,” he continued. (Many are depressed because of the current situation. In fact, our Overseas Filipino Workers are in a very sad situation as they have been away from their families for so long. Sadness has no price. It is difficult to be away from your families.)

DSWD Secretary Roland Bautista has revealed that concerned agencies led by DSWD and DOH are actively working to address the rising number of Filipinos seeking mental health treatment.

Over 150 individuals have availed themselves of the agency’s online psychosocial counseling as of June 2020.

Despite this, Go believes the government could do more to lend support to Filipinos during the crisis.

This includes expanding existing mental health services, raising awareness about mental health issues, and addressing barriers, such as stigma, access and inconvenience, that discourage people from seeking treatment.

Go encouraged the two departments to take advantage of online platforms, such as social media and other technologies, which might provide free and greater access to mental health care and psychosocial support.

Last May 28, over presided over a Senate health committee hearing to discuss Senate Bill (SB) 1471 which seeks to amend Republic Act (RA) 11036, or the Mental Health Act.

Filed by Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” M. Angara and supported Go, the bill seeks to enhance Section 5 of the Act, or the Rights of Service Users.

The new section will provide Filipinos with mental health conditions immediate access to the “compensation benefits and/or any special financial assistance that he or she is entitled to under existing laws should the service user sustain temporary or permanent mental disability while in the performance of duty or by reason of his or her office or position.”

The proposed amendment is an opportunity to reinforce the rights and protections afforded to the affected Filipinos, according to Go.

Essential workers reporting to work despite facing substantial health risks must be adequately protected, he added.

He reminded employers that the mental well-being of their employees has a direct impact on their productivity.

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