DOH calls for unified response to improve mental health care

At least 3.6 million Filipinos suffer from one kind of mental, neurological and substance use disorder.

This was the finding of a Special Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO)—Philippines conducted in the early part of 2020.

WHO noted that mental and behavioral disorders account for about 14 percent of the global burden of disease and as many as 450 million people suffer from these illnesses.

With the pandemic having a considerable impact on global mental health, the Department of Health (DOH) called for a unified response to improve mental health care in the country in observance of this year’s World Mental Health Day.

Moreover, the pandemic has further impacted mental health in groups such as older adults, health-care providers, and people with underlying health conditions.

“There is less than one mental health worker for every 100,000 Filipinos, and many are currently unable to gain access to services,” said Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.

Serious matter

Duque added that mental health is a serious matter and cannot be left unattended.

He stressed that there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to taking better care of one’s mental health, and added that a concerted effort at all levels was required in order to help people with these conditions.

This year’s theme “Mental Health for All: Unifying Voices for Greater Investment and Access,” seeks to drive the conversation on some of the challenges that the mental health-care system faces, such as negative perceptions and limited funding commitment.

While support for mental health has gained momentum in the Philippines, Duque noted that a stronger push is needed to address the issue given the effects of the pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has evoked overwhelming reactions and emotions from people. Many have had their livelihoods affected, others are worried about keeping their families safe. There are many reasons why we need to take extra care now when it comes to mental health,” said Duque.

“We hope that by raising more awareness on the urgency of this issue, we can inspire more commitment towards helping those in need,” he furthered.

Critical to society

The United Nations policy brief on Covid-19 and the need for action on mental health states that good mental health is critical to the functioning of society at the best of times.

According to Duque, improving service delivery capability and ensuring greater access both need substantial investment in terms of infrastructure, manpower, and resources.

The health secretary further noted that while the mandates provided by the Mental Health Act and the Universal Health Care Law help give the country enough leverage to ensure that mental health services will be given paramount importance, there is an urgent need for more assistance.

“Mental health is a human right, it’s time that mental health be made available for all. Quality, accessible primary health care is the foundation for universal health coverage and is urgently required as the world grapples with the current health emergency,” said Duque.

He stressed, “We need to make mental health a reality for all—for everyone, everywhere.”


For this year’s observance of National Mental Health Week, various activities to promote more awareness and understanding of mental health, such as webinars and daily mental cleanse challenges, are being conducted across the Philippines as part of a collaborative effort between the government, private sector, civil society, and various other stakeholders and partners.

“Unifying the voices of all stakeholders and advocates is needed so that everyone can share in investing time and effort for mental health,” said Duque. “

The WHO will also launch its Quality Rights online platform, which provides comprehensive information on the rights of persons with mental health issues, so that the public can take greater care.

“At a time that the world collectively endured the most challenging year by far, addressing mental health concerns has become more vital and pressing. Forging partnerships and uniting our voices to call on more stakeholders and policymakers to increase investment in mental health is our best chance at dealing with this task at hand,” the health chief concluded.


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