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A step forward

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On May 2, 2017 the Senate passed Senate Bill 1354 or the Mental Health Act. The bill was introduced back in February 21 and was sponsored by Senator Risa Hontiveros and principally authored by Sen. Vincente “Tito” Sotto III. The bill aims to implement mental health care systems in public and private institutions on a national scale.

Diagnosis through definition

One of the symptoms that indicate a stigmatization of this particular issue in the country is a superficial understanding of mental health conditions.

In its introductory section, the bill references Republic Act 7277, otherwise known as the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, stating that persons with mental health conditions should be recognized as disabled persons by the Magna Carta.

The bill defines mental health condition as referring to “a neurological or psychiatric condition characterized by the existence of a recognizable, clinically-significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior that reflects a genetic or acquired dysfunction in the neurobiological, psychosocial, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning.”

The Magna Carta defines disabled persons as “those suffering from restriction or different abilities, as a result of mental, physical or sensory impairment, to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.”

There is clearly a point wherein both descriptions intersect. The idea that mental health conditions are capable of preventing an individual from functioning normally must be emphasized if there is to be a paradigm shift in mental health care.

Towards nationwide implementation

A large portion of the bill addresses the stigma that is attached to mental health and its treatment in the country. The bill recognizes mental health as a “basic right of all Filipinos” that is just as inalienable as physical health.

In Article I, Section 3, the bill states the following objectives*: (1) strengthen effective leadership and governance for mental health, (2) develop and establish a national mental health care system for the mental health needs of Filipinos, (3) protect the rights and freedoms of persons with mental health needs, (4) strengthen information systems for mental health, and (5) integrate strategies promoting mental health in institutions and communities.

Article V outlines the implementation of mental health initiatives in educational institutions and workplaces. Section 18 states that all undergraduate and postgraduate medical courses offered in private and public higher education institutions will now require students to take units on psychiatry and neurology. It also calls for the development of programs geared towards mental health awareness including the identification and support of individuals at risk, a semblance of which is already present in the Loyola Schools.

Ultimately, after several years punctuated by mental health bills that never made it to the Upper House, the Mental Health Act marks the beginning of the legitimization of mental health discourse in the Philippines.

*Objectives have been paraphrased and summarized for brevity

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