The Senate passed on third and final reading Tuesday a national mental health policy, the first of its kind in the country.
Senate Bill No. 1354 or the Philippine Mental Health Law, authored by Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros, sought to integrate mental health services and programs in the public health system.
The bill, approved with 19 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and no abstention, mandates the government to put up basic mental health services at the community level. It also seeks the establishment of psychiatric, psychosocial and neurologic services in all regional, provincial, and tertiary hospitals.
The measure also seeks to provide proper health care to people suffering from depression and to save patients contemplating suicide.
People with mental health issues usually face stigma, and treatment options are limited in the country.
Majority of mental health facilities are in the National Capital Region, "making access to mental health facilities is uneven across the country, favoring those living near the main cities," according to a 2011 study by the World Health Organization. The same study cited the dismal number of practicing psychiatrists, with only 0.38 health professionals per 100,000 Filipinos.
"We hear stories of people spiralling into destructive depression because of the lack of social support and the delay in accessing treatment for fear of being ostracized," Hontiveros lamented.
Philippines had the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia, according to the same study. Senator Sonny Angara, who also co-sponsored SBN 1354, meanwhile noted that one out of every 100 household had a family member with mental disorder, based on a 2004 Department of Health (DOH) - Social Weather Station (SWS) survey.
Medication for anxiety and depression may also be expensive to most Filipinos.
"Our institutions are ill-equipped to keep track and treat the mental health of our kababayans and because of this inability, many cases possibly go undiagnosed," Angara said.
Earlier this month, the Department of Health said it was allotting more than P1 billion in funding for mental health projects in 2017, the highest in the history of the agency.
Secretary Paulyn Ubial said they set a P100-million budget for medicine access program for anti-psychotics or mental health drugs. The DOH also allotted P1 billion for the upgrade and development of mental health facilities across the country.