Go to DOH and DSWD: Mental health concerns should be a priority amid raging pandemic

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SEN. and Senate Committee on Health Chairman Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go is appealing to the Departments of Health (DOH), and Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to bolster efforts to extend psychosocial assistance to individuals struggling with mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and other more serious psychological issues.

“In this time of pandemic, we should also ensure that mental health is valued, promoted and protected. Aside from physical health, ’yung mental health, napaka-importante rin po,” Go recently stated.

The senator noted the ongoing pandemic and subsequent disease-containment responses have created conditions that are taking a toll on the mental health of many adults and children. Public measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, can cause loneliness and fear in people which, in turn, increases anxiety and stress. Moreover, people receiving mental health services before the pandemic may have been cut off in areas under community quarantine.

Marami pong nade-depress dahil sa sitwasyon ngayon. In fact, nakakalungkot ang mga OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] natin, napakatagal na napalayo sa kanilang pamilya. Alam ninyo, hindi nababayaran ’yung lungkot. Napakahirap mapalayo sa pamilya,” he continued.

DSWD Secretary Roland Bautista revealed that concerned agencies led by DSWD and DOH are actively working to address the rising number of Filipinos seeking mental health treatment. Over 150 individuals have availed of the agency’s online psychosocial counseling as of June 2020.

Despite this, Go believes the government can do more to lend support to Filipinos during the crisis. This includes expanding existing mental health services, raising awareness about mental health issues, and addressing barriers, such as stigma, access and inconvenience that discourage people from seeking treatment.

He encouraged the aforementioned departments to take advantage of online platforms, such as social media and other technologies, which may provide free and greater access to mental health care and psychosocial support.

Last May 28, the senator presided over a Senate health committee hearing to discuss Senate Bill 1471, which seeks to amend Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act. Filed by Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara and supported by Senator Go, the bill will enhance Section 5 of the Act or the Rights of Service Users.

The new section will provide Filipinos with mental health conditions immediate access to the “compensation benefits and/or any special financial assistance that he or she is entitled to under existing laws should the service user sustain temporary or permanent mental disability while in the performance of duty or by reason of his or her office or position.”

The proposed amendment is an opportunity to reinforce the rights and protections afforded to the affected Filipinos, according to Go. Essential workers reporting to work despite facing substantial health risks must be adequately protected, he added.

Go reminded employers that the mental well-being of their employees has a direct impact on their productivity. “Now more than ever, they must fulfill their moral obligation to take care of their workers given the emotional toll of the pandemic.”

“With or without Covid-19, napakaimporante ng health, kalusugan po ng bawat Pilipino…. Let me reiterate, let us learn from this pandemic and work together to strengthen our health-care system and to better provide quality health care to our people,” added Go.

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