Senate passes Mental Health Act

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 2) — The Senate approved Tuesday on third and final reading the bill seeking to integrate mental health service programs in the public health system.

"The bill also mandates the government to put up basic mental health services at the community level and psychiatric, psychosocial and neurologic services in all regional, provincial and tertiary hospitals," said Senator Risa Hontiveros, the sponsor and principal author of Senate Bill No. 1354 or the Mental Health Act of 2017

It also seeks to integrate mental health promotion in both educational institutions and the workplace to address the stigma and discrimination usually associated with mental health.

Hontiveros added the Philippines is one of the few countries that does not have a mental health law.

The mental health bill was approved with 19 affirmative votes, zero negative vote, and no abstention.

"This is a historic day for all of us. After being one of the few countries left without a mental health policy, we are now closer to realizing a national mental health law to comprehensively address the Filipinos' mental health needs and ensure that our rights as persons with mental health concerns are protected and secured," Hontiveros said.

Aside from Hontiveros, the bill was also authored by Senate majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III, and Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Antonio Trillanes IV, Bam Aquino, Loren Legarda, and Joel Villanueva.

In a World Health Organization study cited by Hontiveros, 14 percent of the total 1.4 million Filipinos with disabilities in 2010 have mental disabilities or disorders.

Hontiveros said while mental health is a critical public health issue, it has been given inadequate attention as data and information on the issue were outdated.

She added the severe lack in capacity of the country's health care delivery system in responding to patients with mental health conditions, as there was only two mental health workers per 100,000 population in the Philippines.

"We hear stories of people spiraling into destructive depression because of the lack of social support and the delay in accessing treatment for fear of being ostracized," Hontiveros said.

Angara then cited a 2006 study by the Department of Health which revealed that across 20 government agencies in Metro Manila, one in three employees had experienced a mental health problem or breakdown at least once in their lifetime, including phobias, alcohol abuse, and depression.

"Our institutions are ill-equipped to keep track and treat the mental health of our kababayans (countrymen) and because of this inability, many cases possibly go undiagnosed," Angara said.

The bill's sponsors urged their counterparts in the House of Representatives to similarly pass the bill.

Mental health advocates including Jerika Ejercito, Miss International 2016 Kylie Verzosa, and actress Antoinette Taus attended the Senate session and commended the passage of the Mental Health Act.