During the plenary debates for the 2024 budget of the Department of Health (DOH) in the early hours of Wednesday, November 15, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health, sought increased funding for the country’s mental health programs.
Go’s remarks highlighted a crucial aspect of public health often overshadowed by physical health concerns, particularly in times of crisis.
The senator opened his interpellation with an inquiry about the current state of mental health coverage under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), questioning, “How much is the current PhilHealth coverage for mental health cases? Do they have outpatient coverage? What is the plan of PhilHealth for the benefit packages for mental health cases and consultation?”
Reiterating the importance of mental health, Go stated, “Hindi rin natin dapat kalimutan ang sapat na pondo para sa mental health program lalo na sa panahon ngayon na maraming krisis na kinakaharap ang ating mga kababayan.”
Senator Pia Cayetano, senior vice chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, affirmed that a budget for mental health has been allocated, amounting to P4.77 billion, encompassing both inpatient and outpatient services.
Highlighting the budget allocations for mental health, Go pointed out, “In 2023, P1.9 billion is included in the budget for the mental health program of the DOH. In the 2024 National Expenditure Program (NEP), the proposed budget is P683 million.”
He stressed the need for continued increase, improvement and expansion of mental health programs, asserting, “We should continue to improve our mental health programs and ensure that all forms of psychosocial assistance will be made available to Filipinos who are suffering from all forms of mental health issues, especially at this time of crisis.”
“Sana po’y madagdagan ang budget para sa mental health,” he added.
The senator has been pushing for the passage of his proposed Senate Bill No. (SBN) 1786, aimed at mandating public higher education institutions (HEIs) to establish Mental Health Offices on the campuses. He accentuated the urgency of addressing mental health issues among young learners.
If enacted into law, SBN 1786 proposes the establishment of Mental Health Offices to set up campus hotlines with dedicated and trained guidance counselors to provide assistance to the whole HEI community, especially the students. The bill also states that special attention shall be given to those identified as having mental health problems or conditions, especially those at risk of committing suicide.
If approved, the Commission on Higher Education and the public HEIs, through their Mental Health Offices, shall then initiate and sustain a heightened campaign to raise the collective consciousness about mental health.
Furthermore, the measure also proposes to mandate educational institutions to raise awareness on mental health issues, identify and provide support and services for individuals at risk, and facility access by developing necessary mechanisms to further empower educational institutions in promoting the mental health and wellness of students, faculty, teaching and non-teaching staff, and other personnel.
The awareness campaign shall give special emphasis to the issues of suicide prevention, stress handling, mental health and nutrition, and guidance and counseling. The campaign shall ensure that the whole HEI community is aware of in-campus mental health services.
In addition, Go has co-authored and co-sponsored SBN 2200, or the proposed Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act, which was principally sponsored by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian. This measure aims to provide comprehensive mental health support for the youth in the country’s basic education system, requiring both private and public schools to integrate mental health education and support services into their curriculum.
Image credits: Philippine Information Agency