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Senate approves Mental Health Act

The Senate of the Philippines on Tuesday approved on third and final reading Senate Bill No. 1345, or the Philippine Mental Health bill. Philstar.com/Stock

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED 5:45 p.m.) — The Senate of the Philippines on Tuesday approved on third and final reading a bill creating a national mental health policy.

The Senate, on its first day back in session, passed Senate Bill No. 1354, or the Philippine Mental Health Bill, the first of its kind in the country.

The bill was approved was approved with 19 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and no abstention. It was filed on Feb. 17, 2017.

This bill was sponsored  by Sen. Risa Hontiveros,  former Senate Committee on Health chairperson. It was principally authored by Sen. Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and co-authored by Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillanes IV, Bam Aquino, Sonny Angara, and Joel Villanueva.

The Senate bill seeks to integrate mental health services and programs in the public health system. It also mandates the government to provide basic mental health services at the community level and psychiatric, psychosocial and neurologic services in all regional, provincial and tertiary hospitals.

Hontiveros said she considers the passage of the mental health bill historic as the Philippines is only one of a few countries in the world that still does not have a national mental health policy. She thanked her fellow senators, particularly Sen. JV Ejercito, now Health committee chairman, for backing and supporting the passage of the bill.

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"This is a historic day for all of us. After being one of the few countries left without a mental health policy, we are now one step closer to realizing a national mental health law to comprehensively address the Filipinos’ mental health needs and ensure that our rights as persons with mental health needs are protected and secured," Hontiveros said.

"Because of this measure, our people with mental health needs will no longer suffer silently in the dark. They will no longer endure an invisible illness and fight an invisible war," she added.

Hontiveros said that in 2012 alone, the World Health Organization reported 2,558 cases of Filipinos committing suicide, an average of seven cases daily. She added that the Department of Health estimates that one in five Filipino adults has some form of mental illness, with schizophrenia, depression and anxiety topping the incidences of disorder.

Mental health advocates led by Miss International 2016 Kylie Verzosa, Antoinette Taus and Jerika Ejercito also attended the Senate session to show their support and to applaud the passage of the bill.

A Technical Working Group is already working on integrating similar counterpart bills at the House of Representatives. — Rosette Adel

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