THE STATE of mental health in our country has been deteriorating even before the outbreak of Covid-19. The pandemic heightened the urgency of ensuring and fortifying the mental health of all considering the major disruptions and alterations that many are experiencing due to the impact of the health crisis.
Philippines has the longest uninterrupted quarantine and is now among the top 20 countries with the most number of Covid-19 cases. This has a huge toll on the current mental health state of the people. Medical workers are facing unprecedented challenge in providing healthcare while facing risk and fearful of bringing the virus home. Many of those who lost their loved ones did not have the chance to say goodbye, which heightens their sorrow. Thousands have lost their jobs and are beset with uncertainty. The youth are grappling with long distance learning and are unable to have normal social interaction in their crucial development years. Those with mental health conditions are even more vulnerable due to quarantine restrictions.
This current bleak scenario is apparent in the significant increase in the monthly hotline calls on depression recorded by the National Center for Mental Health — from 80 before the lockdown to nearly 400. Given the urgency of addressing mental health challenges in this period of pandemic, the global theme for the World Mental Health Day emphasizes universal access for mental health care: “Mental Health for All. Greater Investment—Greater Access.”
As we observe the counterpart National Mental Health Week here in the Philippines, let us join together in calling for greater investment in mental health so everyone can have access to psychosocial support and services regardless of location and socio-economic situation. The consequences of the pandemic on the mental health of the citizens, particularly the vulnerable sectors, necessitate that mental health become an integral part of the universal health coverage.
It is notable that the government has made efforts to step up its response to mental health prior to the pandemic through the launch of a multi-sectoral approach for mental health with programs and interventions for workplaces, schools, and communities targeting high-risk groups. This includes the NCMH’s 24/7 Crisis Hotline, which proves to be essential especially in this period of emergency. We hope that the implementation of the Republic Act No. 11036 or the Mental Health Act will ensure that mental health and wellness programs will reach the grassroots level so that remote communities will not be left behind. The tireless mental health professionals also deserve commendation for providing interventions, comfort, and care to those experiencing depression and despair.
To truly cultivate mental health, it must become a way of life. A proactive approach to overall wellness, such as building a culture that promotes mental wellness and mainstreaming difficult conversations related to mental health, are vital. On the individual level, developing habits that strengthen mental fortitude can prepare one for inevitable adversities of life.
As we continue to grapple with Covid-19 and embark into the new normal, let us harness our Filipino sense of togetherness, be generous with our presence, and always respond with compassion to gradually revive optimism and hope especially among those who suffer most.
(Statement of the Commission on Human Rights in observance of National Mental Health Week)