Mental health is national wealth

The world observed Mental Health Day on October 10. It was apt that the Lower House approved House Bill 6452 or the Comprehensive Mental Health Act on second reading and earlier the Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1354, or the Philippine Mental Health Act, in May 2017 on third and final reading. Boy, does this country need that.

The Philippines is one of the few countries without a “mental-health policy.” Woe to us for according to the World Health Organization, the Philippines has 5.7 million with mental-health issues.

This is 5.3 percent of the total 100 million afflicted in the Western Pacific that, in turn, is parcel to some 300 million mentally impaired individuals around the world. Globally, 800,000 persons commit suicide every year. Consider this: the Philippines has only one psychiatrist for every 250,000 individuals compared to the ideal ratio of 1: 50,000.

Recall that Stephen Paddock, who committed the worst mass shooting in history in Las Vegas recently, is believed to be ideologically unattached and was only probably affected by an antianxiety depression medicine he was taking. This will reportedly make one either quiet but unfocused or aggressive and violent. The medicine was worse than the disease?

A month after major tragedies like Supertyphoon Yolanda and the big earthquakes, their victims always begin to show signs of post-event mental stresses. The legislative bills come at no better time.

For instance, the proposals make it mandatory for Filipinos to have access to the best available mental-health care from the government and define the rights of patients, family members, legal representatives and health-care professionals. The bills mandate the Department of Health to craft a national mental-health program in coordination with the stakeholders; the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to make sure proper mental packages are available and for the Commission on Human Rights to inspect all mental institutions to determine proper “humane treatment” of mentally challenged individuals.

Once approved into law, the Act will force provincial, tertiary and regional hospitals to have mental-health services and mandates all local government units to upgrade existing hospitals with psychiatrists.

What has worsened this mental epidemic in the world apart from genes and the natural stress of life? A partial answer is too much use of social media.

A study funded by the University of Michigan shows that, while Facebook or social media in general can connect people to the farthest corners of the world, it can also make one “feel miserable” and help lower people’s life satisfaction.

This finding is supported by the Journal of Epidemiology, which says viewers tend to see “the best side” of someone’s life on social media: rich, successful, happy family, well-traveled and good looking (filtered selfies, for a start). Viewers would begin to negatively “suffer from comparison”.

Panorama Magazine’s Kathleena de la Rosa, a psychology lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila, has this to say: “In the olden days, people compared themselves to images they saw on TV and magazines. The comparison is unrealistic. Now, viewers compare themselves with people they know. And more is the pressure of not being able to match the standard of reality, of real people.

Dr. Brian Primack, on the other hand, disclosed that social media has become a convenient platform to cyberbully people because the attackers are shielded by anonymity and have no physical contact with their victims. Cyberbullying leads to depression and even suicide for some of the victims.

What can be done? There is the medical route of taking, for instance, antidepression and antianxiety capsules. Failing that, there are psychiatrists who subject patients to “cognitive behavior therapy”. A newfangled way is the so-called neurofeedback route, where machines read the brain, images are analyzed, feedback is given to the brain to alter its neurons to change a certain negative way of thinking. (Try with practitioners like Denise Celdran.)

It is time we erase the stigma on people with mental-health challenges, considering the disease affects 5.7 million out of some 100 million. A mentally healthy nation can, after all, still be wealthy nation, as well. Let’s do it!


Bingo Dejaresco, a former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner and book author. A life member of Finex, he is chairman of both the Professional Development and Broadcast Media committees. His views here, however, are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex.


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