UniversityOn voices unheard: The Philippine Mental Health Act of 2017
On voices unheard: The Philippine Mental Health Act of 2017

It was in May 2 when Senate Bill 1354 or the Philippine Mental Health Act of 2017 was approved on its third and final reading. Voting 19-0, the Philippine Senate passed the bill which seeks to mandate the provisions of affordable and accessible mental health services in the country.

Since its authorization, the bill has been transferred to the House of Representatives as it continues to undergo the process of becoming law.


On the bill

In an earlier statement, Senator Risa Hontiveros, a sponsor and principal author of the bill, states that the government is expected to provide psychiatric, psychosocial, and neurologic services at regional, provincial, and tertiary hospitals. At the community level, the bill also proposes the inclusion of basic mental health services, community resilience, psychosocial well-being training, capacity-building programs, support services, and promotion of mental health awareness.

In addition, the bill seeks to integrate mental health into the country’s educational system, as well as promote mental health programs in schools and other organizations. The Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority are called on to lead the implementation in schools and partner with the Department of Health (DOH) to enhance the promotion of such programs.

Other government agencies that will further implement the proposed mental health system include the Commission on Human Rights, Department of Labor and Employment, Civil Service Commission, Department of Social Work and Development, and local government units.


004 Mental health bill - Hannah Lucena


In the process of approval

Gibby Gorres, a Communications Officer from the Office of Senator Risa Hontiveros, reveals that the bill is still undergoing deliberations at the House of Representatives.

“It is [currently] with the Committee on Appropriations. As soon as the bill passes the House, there will be a bicameral meeting and the final version of the bill will be elevated to the president for his signature,” Gorres describes. “Deliberations really can take time. I don’t think there is a delay so much as it is the regular procedure at the House of Representatives. The bill won support in the Senate unanimously, and we are confident that it should meet similar support in the House.”

During the process of approving the bill, Gorres shares that one of the points of discussion dealt with informed consent. One of the provisions of the bill is that the patient must first be given an informed consent before undergoing a treatment or procedure. The challenge was on establishing the conditions and circumstances of the informed consent, considering that the treatment or procedure concerns one’s mental health.

“Basically, the argument goes, ‘How can a person who may not be in his right mind at the moment provide informed consent?’ Of course, as with all illnesses, there are varying degrees. There are some people who are able to provide such consent, while others provide it through a parent or guardian,” Gorres explains.

Part of the debate in the informed consent also involved whether such conditions would actually be needed. Gorres expresses that there is still a pervasive, negative attitude towards the reality of mental illnesses in the country. Many countries, including the Philippines, deny such conditions relating to depression, bipolar disorder, and similar illnesses.

“In our country, this manifests as the idea that mental illness is something people just make up, or that it’s a ‘rich person’s condition.’ Worse, when people do muster the courage to seek help, people say they should just tough it out,” Gorres expresses. “This stigma, I think, is the biggest obstacle to a more progressive and humane attitude towards mental health. Despite these obstacles, we are happy that the bill passed the Senate.”


The bigger picture

According to the National Center for Mental Health, the suicide rate for men is estimated at 2.5 per 100,000 people and 1.7 for women. These numbers, however, do not include unreported cases. It was also only recently that an emergency hotline for such incidents is made available. Gorres adds that, even in such hotlines, the delivery of services has been challenging.

Agatha Feldia (II, BS-FIN) shares that such bill would be able to uplift those who are deprived economically, psychologically, and physically. “In order to stabilize oneself as a being and as a citizen, one should be [able to] stabilize their minds,” she expresses.

Several students, however, cite that one of the biggest challenges the bill will face should it be passed is its non-priority status in the government. “People still don’t give importance to the importance of mental health; hence, people tend to focus more on what is currently known rather than addressing psychological issues if there are any,” expresses Therese Laca (III, BS-PSM).

On the other hand, Frances Buzon (II, BEED-EVED) states that the lack of knowledge among people in the government is one of the reasons why they are being held back on approving the bill. Moreover, Buzon laments that there are people who do not see the value of the issue in the country.

“As this reality grows, our public health infrastructure needs to be improved before the situation becomes difficult to manage. Changing a culture will take time, and a mental health law which also supports the proper education regarding mental health and mental illness will go a long way in protecting future generations from harm,” Gorres concludes.