Tag Archives: Typhoon Haiyan

Mental health in the Philippines

After more or less 28 years, the law that could provide affordable mental health services for Filipinos has been signed.

Referred to as the Mental Health Law, the Republic Act 11036 would secure the rights and welfare of persons with mental health needs, provide services for them even in barangays, improve mental healthcare facilities, and promote mental health education in schools and workplaces.

It also aims to (1) provide psychiatric, neurologic and psychosocial services to the regional and other tertiary level hospitals, (2) add mental health service providers, and (3) introduce anti-stigma or anti-discrimination programs in schools and workplaces. Mental healthcare would not just be concentrated in urban areas anymore and would highlight the importance of research required to formulate and develop culturally-relevant national mental health programs.

The Mental Health Law has been signed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senators Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillanes IV, Paolo Bengino Aquino IV, Juan Edgardo Angara, and Joel Villanueva.

A Human Right

Before the Mental Health Law was legislated, there have been at least 16 other bills focusing on mental health.

Former senator Orlando Mercado was the first one to file an act about it in 1989. The next year, another version was filed by Senator Jose Lina. Then in 2000, Executive Order 470 was issued, creating a council for mental health attached to the Department of Health (DOH).

The Philippine Mental Health Policy came into being in 2001, signed by former health secretary Manuel M. Dayrit. But it was revised four years after over 4.5 million cases of depression had been reported.

The figures went down as a result but the cases of anxiety and alcoholism have gone up in the succeeding years. Suicide, too, which was “seriously contemplated” by Filipino students as young as 13 years old. By 2012, 2,558 Filipinos died by suicide (World Health Organization) and 1 in 5 Filipino adults has some form of mental illness (Department of Health).

The destruction wrought by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) across the central Philippines—particularly in Marabut, Samar, Carles, and Estancia—led the government to scale up its community mental health programs and train city and municipal health officers in identifying mental health problems. It spearheaded the first public health convention on PWDs in order to improve their access to health and wellness services.

Then it signed an administrative order in 2016 for the nationwide implementation of its mental health program. It also created a national hotline for mental health assistance in 2017. That same year, the Senate passed the Senate Bill 1354 or the Mental Health Act of 2017 that enable affordable and accessible mental health services to Filipinos.

Globally, more than 300 million people are living with depression so, in the Philippines,  the DOH together with the WHO and the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation launched Hopeline, a 24-hour phone-based counseling service for individuals who suffer from that. Other organizations that are helping are the Youth for Mental Health Coalition, Incorporated, Silakbo PH, Isanliyab Servant Leaders’ Union, and Where There Is Hope (WTIH).

Mental health is important because all aspects of people’s lives is affected by it. Depression, suicidal ideation, and bipolar disorder are currently the most common mental health problems in the country, and one in every three Filipinos has a mental health problem1. There is only one psychiatrist for every 250,000 mentally ill patients, though, and the fund set aside for mental health is just five percent of the health department’s total annual budget2.

Furthermore, most of the mental health facilities and institutions are within the National Capital Region3. Most of the victims are overseas Filipino workers, residents of typhoon-prone areas, families that have abusive parents, and those that lived through disasters and violence.

With these in mind, The PWD Forum cannot but echo a Philippine senator’s hope for mental health in the country: that it will be eventually accepted as a genuine public concern that requires accessible medical care, consistent government support, and compassionate social understanding.

“Help is finally here. The Mental Health Law cements the government’s commitment to a more holistic approach to healthcare: without sound mental health there can be no genuine physical health.” ~ Sen. Risa Hontiveros

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of the GMA News

1This estimate was from a population survey conducted by the UP-Philippine General Hospital in Western Visayas more than 20 years ago. It was shared by Dr. Lourdes Ignacio, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, during her lecture on “Reaching the unreached: Integrating mental health care in general health care” before national academicians and national scientists of the National Academy of Science and Technology.

2From the allotment, 95% goes to the maintenance of mental health institutions and personnel’s salary.

3They are the National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong, Cavite Center for Mental Health in Trece Martires, Mariveles Mental Ward in Bataan, and psychiatric wards in the Philippine General Hospital, Makati Medical Center, University of Santo Tomas Hospital, University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, and Metro Psychotherapy Facility.

Notes:

  1. Depression is a common and serious medical illness that can cause feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to suicidal ideation, which means thinking about or planning suicide.

Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, is an illness that causes unusual shifts in mood. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by failure to understand reality. Anxiety causes nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. All of them—depression, suicidal ideation, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety—can be treated through medication, counselling, and social rehabilitation.

  1. In rural areas: mental disorders are a result of other-worldly spirits or witchcraft.
  2. The state-run insurance firm, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) recently added mental illness under its coverage but for severe disorders and short- duration of confinement only.
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In the Face of Calamities

Children with disabilities in the Philippines—there are 5.1 million of them to date—are the most vulnerable if there happen to be a calamity or an emergency in the country. They wouldn’t be able to flee; around 1.5 million need assistive devices. They wouldn’t be able to go back to school immediately and they wouldn’t be able to subsist in the sanitation conditions in evacuation centers.1

So, Dr. Renato Solidum Jr., Undersecretary for Disaster Risk Reduction of the Department of Science and Technology, proposed to carry out continuing education and preparation on disaster management in all levels especially those in the most vulnerable groups. He encouraged developing “disaster imagination” to bring about people’s resolve to prepare for any disaster and “disaster preparedness” as a way a life for every Filipino.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council–Office of Civil Defense also endorsed “Lahat Handa,” a training manual that promotes the rights and capacities of children, youth, older people and PWDS.

The ramifications of a typhoon, flood, or fire may linger, said Alex Ghenis of the Berkeley, California-based World Institute on Disability. These may disrupt access to caregivers, assistive devices and medical supplies. A person with a mobility impairment might be less able to escape a storm on their own while a person with a visual or hearing impairment might not receive appropriate evacuation notices. PWDs, therefore, even they have mostly been ignored in scientific literature and policy, will be the most vulnerable during calamities because of falling buildings and environmental pollution.

Good thing, someone has thought of sign language gestures for words like typhoon, storm surge and signal numbers in 2013. Some waterside villages in Tacloban have also planned to raise flags and made announcements over megaphones to alert the deaf and the visually impaired, respectively.

The PWD Forum also hopes that closed captioning will be added to television broadcasts soon. For, as of now, research director Perpi Tiongson of the Oscar M. Lopez Center in Manila has observed that the standard version of Filipino sign language isn’t required to be taught at schools for the deaf yet.

“Some of the children with disabilities wouldn’t be able to duck, cover and hold under tables, so they should identify the safest area in the room, where no debris would fall on them. If they use wheelchairs, they should fix it to ensure stability, and everyone should be informed of their buildings’ respective evacuation routes. They should also pinpoint the safe parts of a building in case of an earthquake.” ~ Dr. Renato Solidum Jr.

1This was noted by Lotta Sylwander, country representative of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), during the “Emergency Preparedness Forum for Children and Youth with Disabilities.”

2Typhoons could form if the temperature is above 280C (82.40F).

3The figure was from a report of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Notes:

  • Among of the natural disasters that had happened in the Philippines are the Bohol earthquake, (October 15, 2013), Typhoon Bopha (December 3, 2012), Pantukan landslide (January 5, 2012), Tropical Storm Washi (December 2011), Typhoon Fengshen (June 20-23, 2008), Tropical Cyclone Durian (November 25, 2006), Guinsaugon landslide (February 17, 2006), and Tropical Depression Winnie (November 2004).
  • The Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) in Western Visayas headed by Melissa Banias of the Capability Building Section has trained more or less 700 individuals from the 14 vulnerable or basic sectors that were identified by the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) on the Philippine DRRM system, different kinds of natural and human-induced hazards, and DRRM applications. They are composed of volunteer groups, persons with disability, farmers, fisherfolk, rebel returnees, and Indigenous Peoples (IP), among others.
  • The Philippines is prone to earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, landslides, storms, cyclones, and depressions simply because it is located just above the equator, where the country faces the western Pacific waters with 280C (82.40F) temperature2. Its hillsides are denuded of forests and it rests on the so-called volcano Ring of Fire.

A lot of Filipinos live on coastal islands, too. The Super Typhoon Haiyan reached 23 feet (7 meters) upon its surge. It rolled over the low-lying parts of Leyte, causing death to more than 10,000 people3.

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of Edison Jared

UPDATE (October 2, 2018): On average, more than 1,000 lives are lost every year in the Philippines, with typhoons accounting for 74 percent of the fatalities, 62 percent of the total damages, and 70 percent of agricultural damages, according to the World Bank.

Source: GMA News Online

John, Jansen, and Hannah Mae: Typhoon Survivors

John is a 15-year old boy. His hands are deformed and, because of the spasms, he cannot hold anything in them.

Jansen is five. He spent most of his days lying in bed because it is difficult for him to sit upright.

Hannah Mae is 11. She weighs nine kilos and lives in a two-room house with a thin sheet of metal as roof.

They are just three of the children who have battled the typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) on this day last year. What sets them apart, though, is that they did so amidst their debilitating physical condition: cerebral palsy.

John has lost his house, which is nearby a beach in Tacloban. Along with it is his family’s income that had been necessary for his medical care.

Jansen was placed at the door of their fridge together with his two brothers as waters rushed into their home. His mother had to hold onto it while clinging onto the wall of an outhouse. Eventually, the waters subsided, leaving Jansen greatly traumatized.

Hannah Mae, on the other hand, was faced with the stress of the disaster helplessly. She wasn’t able to move around even as winds smashed through their windows and ripped of their sheet metal roofs.

It is really necessary for the Philippines to work on its disaster risk reduction for people with disabilities (PWDs) now. It is lying astride the typhoon belt, in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” and in between the Pacific and Eurasian tectonic plates. Not doing so can worsen the plight of the estimated 10 million PWDs in that country who, as a conference on disaster risk reduction in Cagayan De Oro two years ago concluded, “…are more vulnerable to disasters than others.”

“Decisions and policies to reduce disaster risks must reflect the needs of persons living with disabilities.” ~United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of the GMA News and Public Affairs

Photos by Maud Bellon & Molly Feltner of Handicap International