Signing of Mental Health Law a victory for advocates

June 21, 2018 - 3:14 PM
The signing into law of the Mental Health Act was made possible by the initiative of politicians from opposing factions. Prior to this was years of lobbying and campaigning by mental health advocates. (Artwork by Uela Altar-Badayos)

The Mental Health Law has finally been signed by President Rodrigo Duterte. Mental health advocates and mental illness sufferers regard it as the culmination of a struggle that has gone on for too long.

A victory

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, principal author of what is now R.A 11036 posted the good news on her Facebook account.

Hontiveros called the signing of the law a “victory” of the advocates who had helped lobby for the bill since it was filed in October 2016.

The senator also discussed the tragic numbers that inspired the action taken: seven Filipinos committing suicide daily, and one in every five Filipinos suffering from some form of mental disorder.

In a statement made to the media, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara credited the administration for bringing life to the Mental Health Act and renewed the call for the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation to include mental heath disorders in the coverage of their services.

For those who have called on the Philippine government to take action, the development heralds the coming of better days for the fight against mental disorders.

Senate passed the bill in May 2017 on a 19-0 vote of all members present.

The authorship of the Mental Health Law crosses political alliances—its other authors include Senate President Tito Sotto III, Loren Legarda, Bam Aquino, Joel Villanueva, and Antonio Trillanes IV. The version signed into law is the consolidation of bills previously filed by these Senators.

Hontiveros had urged the President to sign the law immediately after the recent suicides of bag designer Kate Spade and culinary critic Anthony Bourdain.

She also drew attention to the scarcity of services available to those in need of mental health assistance. According to Hontiveros, there were only 60 psychiatric healthcare facilities in the country, and that there was only two mental health workers available per every 100,00 people.

Health undersecretary Herminigildo Valle also gave a similar warning. In an interview shortly before the signing into law of the Mental Health Act, Valle revealed that 2,550 Filipinos committed suicide in 2012.

He said that people with depression manifested symptoms of the disease, and that awareness was key in identifying a person at risk of committing suicide.

In 2015, Secretary General of the Philippine National Commission to UNESCO Lila Ramos Shahani wrote about Liam Madamba, a senior high school student at the British School of Manila who took his own life after his involvement in a cheating controversy.

Shahani lamented the lack of mental health awareness in the Philippines and the culture that continued to stigmatize depression.

She discussed the importance of mental health reform to help those suffering from the disorder. Three years later, Shahani’s hopes have become reality.

“To prevent suicide, we must first begin to acknowledge the complexity of mental health and its paramount importance as a social issue, slowly whittling away at culturally-ingrained silencing,” wrote Shahani in her column.