Saying no to drugs
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - May 16, 2019 - 12:00am

You may not know it, but the person seated beside you is suffering from a mental disorder. And you’re surprised – maybe “shocked” is the more appropriate  word – to learn that a friend you were  talking with yesterday has committed suicide this morning. And you say, “Ha?, kausap ko lang siya, ngayon, namatay na” (I just spoke to him, now he’s gone).

So many persons do not really understand what mental health is, says Dr. Eric Tayag, one of the authors of the newly passed Mental Health Act. The global number of persons suffering from mental health disorders, particularly depression, is placed at 300 million. Then there is the other manifestation of severe mental disorder – suicide, placed at 10.7 per 100,000 male population. A Philippine social media study revealed that 17 percent of high school students attempted suicide, 12 percent considered seriously to commit suicide, and 11 percent did commit suicide. 

The Rotary Club of Manila 101 Foundation has six areas of focus. One is Disease Prevention and Treatment, under which  program falls Mental Health and Say No to Drugs. When Dr. Eric was inducted president of the club for 2017-2018, he thought of a program that would tackle the mental health issue. He is director of Knowledge Management Information Technical Services of the Department of Health and a member of the committee preparing the IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulations) of the Mental Health Act. So he knows whereof he speaks.

Dr. Eric supports President Duterte’s anti-illegal drug drive, and expands it with focus on prevention. His thrust is to teach students to learn to say no to drugs. And the  schools are the best  place  to start it.  This program is being done by the Rotary of Manila Club 101, in cooperation with the Department of Health and the Department of Education.

Accompanied by a team including psychologists and psychiatrists, Dr. Eric has strode on the stage of high school gymnasiums brimming with students sitting on the cemented  floor, and, in his entertaining manner, even with him doing dancing steps, tells them to say no to drugs, why, and the consequences of saying yes.  He turns serious as he talks of depression, suicidal tendencies, and cyber bullying.  He feels that a good many of the 2,000 students who heard him have taken to heart his message of hope.  

So far, Eric’s team has gone to the  Florentino Torres High School in Tondo, and the Guerrero High School in Manila. The list of schools to be visited is long, but the urgent need to prevent drug use among the young demands visits. Schools to be visited are in Subic and Olongapo, Zambales, Bataan, Batangas, Cavite province, and for preschool to high school, in Taguig City and Abra.

 Corollary to  Rotary Club of Manila 101 mental health program is the Say No to Drugs program chaired by George Tagle, who with his singing partners, has done a number of concerts here and abroad, and of late helped raise funds for the Rotary Club of  Manila 101 mental health project. Their song, composed by the talented George, is titled “Drugs No More/Health Pa More.”

In a conversation with Tess Tumangan, multi-awarded charter president of Rotary Club of Manila 101, and this columnist, Dr. Eric talked about a survey conducted in Metro Manila which showed that the No. 1 mental health issue among Filipinos is not depression, as commonly believed, but  “phobias”, i.e., fear of  heights, fear of insects and closed space. This is followed by depression and substance abuse.

But depression, as opposed to anxiety, can be a fatal disorder, involving sadness caused by romance break-ups during which the person thinks of suicide, will not eat or sleep or avoid talking with people. Personality disorder is to be reckoned with, consisting of anti-social behavior, anorexia bulimia (during which the person refuses to eat and throws up what he/she has eaten). Personality disorder is pretty obvious in drug abusers. 

Tell-tale signs of disorder include sadness in the patients’ mien, avoiding conversation, refusal to talk about their problem, refusal to admit they have a problem. From my watch, disorder sees patients singing, crying, running around the neighborhood.

 Not much focus is made on mental health disorders, Dr. Eric said. The public perception has been negative, there’s stigma and discrimination against affected persons, that there is no cure for them, that they are “sawi sa pag-ibig.”

Dr. Eric emphasizes that it is “the right of every Filipino to have access to services so their mental state can be studied and treated. For starters, the patients are called “service users,” not patients.

For another, WHO recommends reading and learning activities for youngsters. 

Mental health, said Dr. Eric, “is about realizing one’s potential in life. One is  able to cope with mental stresses that one faces everyday.”

Dr. Eric sees great hope in reducing the drug dependence problem by telling young students to say no to drugs. He also believes that the say no to drugs program should involve communities, not just government or social institutions.

He says the need is face-to-face counselling, not intervention. Quick assessments are made for service users to see a guidance counselor.

Tess Tumangan adds that parents should be made aware of the importance of not only nipping the bud, but in the young’s saying no to drugs from their “age of innocence.” Which is why Rotary Club of Manila 101 and Rotary Manila 198 have been conducting seminars on women’s rights and domestic violence “as the root cause of youth problems, why their children go into taking drugs as a recourse to their problems.”

ASP Bing Carrion has addressed this problem by conducting a dialogue with the parents of Torres High School students to determine what the family problems are and possible solutions in combating them.”


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