Mental Health in the PhilippinesMental health plays a significant role in the emotional and physical well-being of a person. However, historically, the Government of the Philippines has given little attention to mental health in the Philippines. Breaking this trend, the Philippines passed the Mental Health Act in 2018.

A Brief History of the Philippines’ Mental Health Policy

In 2001, the Philippines implemented its “first mental health policy.” Followed by a revision in 2016, the Philippines arrived at a nationwide enactment of the newest installment of the Mental Health Act in 2018.

The Mental Health Act designates mental health services as a fundamental right for all Filipino citizens. The Act asserts that “mental health services shall be free from coercion and accountable to the service users” and legislates “the full range of human rights” for people enduring mental illnesses. This includes the right to “participate fully in society and at work, free from stigmatization and discrimination.” The Mental Health Act stands as a significant milestone in psychiatry for the archipelago nation. However, COVID-19 has brought an onslaught of new challenges in terms of mental health in the Philippines.

COVID-19 and the Effects on Mental Health

During the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on mental health. For some, stress, fear and adversity lead to an increased risk of mental health issues. In addition, quarantines and lockdown restrictions can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness, contributing to poor mental well-being. Due to various barriers, older members of society, in particular, may find it challenging to stay connected during the pandemic.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic raised concerns about the mental health of the generation of children growing up in this period. Worldwide, the pandemic has brought to the forefront the need to improve mental health access.

Within the Philippines, a 2020 survey by the Department of Health indicates that around 3.6 million Filipinos found themselves battling mental disorders during the pandemic. Since then, the Filipino government and private organizations have implemented various programs to help citizens navigate their mental health.

Mental Health Programs During COVID-19

The Philippine Mental Health Association (PMHA) is a “private, non-stock and nonprofit organization” that aims to “raise awareness, provide services and conduct research” on mental health in the Philippines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the group has continually offered mental health services through its project, the Philippine Mental Health Association Online Psychosocial Support (Ensuring Wellbeing Amidst COVID-19). The project offers free online counseling sessions to Filipino people suffering from mental health issues during the pandemic.

Also offering telemental health services, the Ateneo Bulatao Center for Psychological Services provides psychological first aid (PFA), psychotherapy and counseling. On November 26, 2021, the Center announced on a Facebook post that it would offer free brief counseling services for Filipino adults ages 18 and older. During these sessions, individuals “can speak with responders who will listen” and “provide a safe psychological space.” These sessions aim to help strengthen coping mechanisms and instill better emotional control skills.

During the same month, WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched Project BRAVE (Building COVID-safe Responses and Voices for Equity) in the Philippines, “a two-year joint [program].” Project BRAVE aims “to assist vulnerable women, children and adolescents with mental health and psychosocial services and protection from gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Crisis Hotline

For those who require immediate mental health services, in line with the Mental Health Act’s mandate to create an around-the-clock mental health hotline as a suicide prevention strategy, the DOH in the Philippines set up the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) CRISIS HOTLINE in May 2019. This proved to be a crucial mental health resource during COVID-19. The NCMH CRISIS HOTLINE notes a rise in monthly calls to the hotline regarding depression “from 80 calls pre-lockdown to nearly 400.” By the first six months of 2021, the hotline noted “3,329 suicide-related calls” in comparison to 1,282 of these calls in 2020. With an average of 32 to 37 daily callers from March to October 2020, the hotline’s services stand as an imperative mental health resource in the nation.

Looking to the Future

While the pandemic rages on, the Government of the Philippines and various organizations are providing an assortment of resources freely available to the public to improve their mental health. With such commitments, Filipino people can access the mental health resources they require.

– Gaby Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in the Philippines
Mental health in the Philippines is worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of calls for mental health assistance has increased along with higher reports of depression and suicidal thoughts. UNICEF, the Philippine Red Cross and the World Health Organization (WHO) have come together to contribute invaluable resources, such as infographics and a hotline. These two key implementations have been instrumental in reducing the negative mental health effects of these trying times and in unifying isolated Filipinos.

Infographics for Frontline Workers and Filipino Citizens

The WHO updated its Philippines website in September 2020 to include mental health infographics. The graphics portray encouraging messages and quick facts and are all available for download. It tailored the various infographics to specific audiences — among the selections are the elderly, family of COVID-infected patients and frontline workers.

Some images directed toward Filipino citizens include reminders to nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals to self-care. With the high amount of Filipinos in the healthcare field, a high volume of nurses and doctors are bound to have very particular needs relating to the emotional exhaustion of caring for extremely sick people.

A Mental Health Hotline

The Philippine Red Cross has instituted a special hotline to provide psychological first aid related to the effects of COVID-19. UNICEF is pairing with Red Cross to provide resources and mobilize support systems to improve mental health in the Philippines.

The hotline’s Red Cross workers consist of 14 trained volunteers hailing from mainly social work and mental health backgrounds. They receive training for three days in helping skills and mock calls. The trainees also attend four-hour sessions on self-care for the volunteers’ own mental health benefit. This vital self-care helps fend off emotional exhaustion.

Filipino citizens are able to use this national COVID-19 hotline to tackle their mental health situations. The hotline provides emotional care, such as talking about callers’ problems. Additionally, it functions as a source of information about COVID-19 to prevent misunderstandings surrounding the pandemic’s uncertainty and hysteria.

The Philippine Red Cross has also extended its services during the pandemic. It has utilized social media as a way to provide a more convenient avenue for people to talk about their hardships. On Facebook, a feature exists that allows Red Cross volunteers to chat through an avatar. The chat even allows avatar customizations, such as male, female, LGBTQ and young child settings according to the callers’ preferences. The Philippines’ hotline has helped over 9,000 callers since its creation and continues to support mental health in the Philippines.

Where Mental Health Currently Stands

The pandemic, social isolation and general fear and uncertainty have affected mental health in the Philippines. Both peoples’ stress and rates of depression continue to increase. The pandemic has resulted in distancing and isolation, which has deeply impacted the Philippines — a country where tight-knit families and community-mindedness abound. However, aid from nonprofit organizations has lessened the devastating effects of the pandemic. Support from UNICEF and the WHO has benefited mental health throughout the nation and fostered a much-needed sense of connection.

Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Flickr