EDITORIAL - No health without mental health
(The Philippine Star) - June 24, 2018 - 12:00am

Over 60 years ago, the first director general of the World Health Organization declared that “without mental health there can be no true physical health.” The WHO’s Dr. Brock Chisholm was a psychiatrist – a profession that was regarded for a long time in the Philippines as something akin to quackery.

This attitude has changed over the past decades. Chisholm’s advocacy has become policy in many countries, and the WHO is moving to raise global public awareness of the link between mental health and physical wellbeing.

A few days ago the link was officially acknowledged in the Philippines, with President Duterte’s enactment of the Mental Health Act or Republic Act 11036 that boosts access to mental health services. Proponents say the serious drug problem helped propel the law through Congress. In a coincidence, the signing of RA 11036 came on the heels of the suicides of two international personalities. 

Suicide, depression and other mental health issues are common around the world, but the stigma attached to such problems has discouraged many Filipinos from seeking professional help. A record of consulting a psychiatrist can be a political issue and doom an election bid. Mental health problems can mean rejection for a job application or dismissal from employment. 

RA 11036 seeks to change such attitudes and reassure those suffering from mental health disorders that professional help is available, and there is no shame in consulting a psychiatrist. Under the new law, such services will even be covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.

Advocates of mental health are celebrating, but the devil is always in the implementation. The rules and regulations for RA 11036, which can spell the success or failure of the law, will still be drawn up over a few months. Resources of both the government and the private sector for mental health care are acutely limited; an expert said there are only about 700 psychiatrists nationwide, with most of them concentrated in Metro Manila and a few other urban centers.

Psychiatric services are typically costly. RA 11036 aims to make mental health care accessible even to the poor. This law is long overdue. Now stakeholders must help ensure that it will be properly implemented.

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