EDITORIAL - A growing problem

EDITORIAL - A growing problem

(The Philippine Star) - December 13, 2019 - 12:00am

A law was passed last year, Republic Act 11036, laying down a national policy to promote mental health. The implementing rules and regulations for RA 11036 are also out. Yet the country is just starting to come to grips with what health professionals say is a growing problem.

With greater awareness of mental health disorders, reporting has increased. People have become more willing to come out and seek professional help. With the enactment of RA 11036, the government is recognizing the problem and promising assistance.

As in other aspects of public health care, however, resources are limited. Among the basic deficiencies is the lack of mental health professionals. The Department of Health sees a rising trend of mental health disorders nationwide – or at least a rising trend of people reporting their problems and seeking assistance. All over the country, however, there are only 1,000 psychologists. Psychiatrists – trained physicians who can prescribe medication – are even fewer, numbering only 600, according to the DOH.

Even education officials say public schools lack guidance counselors. Such professionals are needed not only to advise students in choosing courses but also in dealing with personal problems that are becoming increasingly common among youths. These include bullying by peers, the absence of parents who might be working overseas, or depression that could lead to suicide. Guidance counselors are required to have master’s degrees, and the pay in the public education system is modest.

In line with RA 11036, the DOH is rolling out a National Mental Health Program. It includes drawing up a community-based training program under which teams are organized to provide emergency mental health first aid.

But the DOH needs more professionals, and the government must provide sufficient resources for recruitment. Schools can do their part by encouraging students to consider a career as mental health professionals. Like any law, RA 11036 is only as good as its implementation. The lack of personnel is always a major stumbling block.

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