MANILA — Vice President Leni Robredo on Friday underscored the importance of prioritizing one's mental health while Filipinos continue to face the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
In her message during the first virtual worldwide "March for Mental Health," Robredo said that protecting Filipinos' psychological well-being was already a challenge even before the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The approach is largely still one that relies on institutionalization for treatment… Beyond the gaps in physical, institutional, and human resources, stands a larger cultural divide about accepting mental health in our country and in other parts of the world,” Robredo said.
“I believe that the path to healing begins with honesty and openness. We must begin defaulting to empathy,” she added.
The Vice President said mental well-being is left vulnerable during natural disasters and when crises strike, such as an unprecedented pandemic. This is why mental health services should be strengthened in the grassroots level, as well as in hospitals.
The stigma on mental illnesses must be stopped, she said, and people should encourage others to share their struggles in this time of uncertainty.
“There is still a perception that mental health struggles are a form of weakness or an embarrassment to one’s family. This discourages help-seeking behavior, which then makes data inaccurate and compromises the ability of willing doctors and health professionals who wish to help,” Robredo said.
Mental health, like other areas of human health, should be given equal importance, especially as the Mental Health Law has already been passed in the Philippines.
“Just as COVID-19 demands all elements of society to harmonize, come together and move forward as one, building a better normal means constantly recognizing that no single area of human health is more important than another,” she said.
Among the keynote speakers of the program were Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach and University of the Philippines’ Dr. Lourdes Ladrido-Ignacio, a professor emeritus in psychiatry.
The Commission on Human Rights earlier this week said that most Filipinos’ mental health have been affected by COVID-19. Those with mental health conditions, the agency said, have become even more vulnerable because of the health crisis.
The commission said there has been a significant increase in the monthly hotline calls on depression reported by the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH)—from 80 before the lockdown to an average of 400 per month.
More than half of the monthly callers came from the National Capital Region, epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, while more than 20 percent come from Region IV-A, another area where many infections have been recorded.
The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, launched a global social media challenge calling for greater investment in mental health.
Dubbed #MoveforMentalHealth, the campaign urges the public to post videos of things they do in support of their mental well-being such as dancing, walking or cooking.
The WHO also warned that mental health had been overlooked in the crisis, pointing to a survey conducted between June and August that revealed severe disruptions to services in 93 countries.
Organized by United for Global Mental Health, "March for Mental Health" was held ahead of the World Mental Health day commemoration on Oct. 10.