MANILA, Philippines — Recognizing the importance of mental health amidst the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, Sen. Bong Go presided over a committee hearing to tackle Senate Bill 1471 that seeks to amend Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act.
At a virtual hearing on Thursday, the chair of the Senate committee on health and demography emphasized that people’s mental health should be valued, especially during times of crisis, adding that many individuals these days are experiencing varying forms of depression, particularly among overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families.
“In this time of pandemic, we should also ensure that mental health is valued, promoted and protected” apart from physical health, Go said in his opening statement.
Sen. Sonny Angara, principal author of SB 1471, said that he aims to amend the Mental Health Act after former soldier Winston Ragos was fatally shot by police officers last April 21. Ragos was said to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Ragos… was not able to take his monthly medication. He suffered some war shock serving in the military… We’d like to amend Section 5 of the Mental Health Law or Republic 11036 and to add [another] section… Had he had access to his medicines, perhaps the incident could’ve been prevented,” Angara said.
The bill aims to amend the existing Section 5 of the Mental Health Act by inserting a new provision so that the service user shall “immediately receive compensation benefits and/or any special financial assistance that the service user 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.”
During the committee hearing, Go asked the resource persons, mostly mental health experts, about the services being done to safeguard the people’s psychological wellbeing during the global health crisis, especially for OFWs.
Dr. Napoleon Arevalo said that the mental health hotline launched by the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) is one initiative that aims to reach out to Filipinos suffering from mental health issues during the pandemic.
Dr. Roland Cortez of the NCMH added that there has been a sharp increase in calls since the lockdown, citing this as clear evidence that people are experiencing higher levels of stress.
Cortez added that the NCMH has been working with other agencies to look after the mental wellbeing of Filipinos, including OFWs who have returned home.
“We are also happy to inform the general public that we are in support of other agencies where our teams are called to evaluate our OFWs who are experiencing some degree of problems, mentally. Our teams are actually there to support all these agencies that need our interventions and evaluation,” he said.
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