Uniting To Break Mental Health Stigma In The Philippines
Upjohn, a Pfizer division, committed to relieving the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), brought together leading healthcare professionals and advocates to discuss the state of mental health in the Philippines and why the fight to break the stigma continues.
In 2017, 970 million people around the world suffered from a mental or substance use disorder, which accounted for around 5% of global disease burden in the Philippines,
3.3 million people suffer from depression, and another 3.1 million suffer from anxiety disorders.2 In 2012, there were a total of 2,558 suicide cases. These numbers paint a grim picture.
Mental health advocate Dr. Gia Sison hosted the discussion, asking candid questions and providing insights from her own perspective. “I do think technology has a lot to do with the improvement of a lot of people’s perception about mental health issues. The internet provides such a wealth of information at the click of a finger. But this is dangerous too because even online, there are so many untruths that need to be unpacked first to get to the facts,” she says.
Melissa Comia, Upjohn Philippines General Manager, agrees. “The stigma is still there to break.We at Upjohn really want to see how we can help advance the movement beyond simple awareness. We think through events like this and by providing facts and sound science, we can contribute to improving the conditions of mental health in the Philippines.”
Stigma of mental illnesses in the Philippines
Although the number of people speaking out in the mental health landscape has been increasing, the stigma attached to mental health issues is still present. Words like baliw, krung-krung, and buang are often used casually or even mindlessly in everyday conversation. And unfortunately, these words are still carelessly inserted as punchlines in media.
There are also a lot of myths and misunderstandings that need to be debunked. If a person suspects that someone close to them or even themselves might be suffering from a mental health condition, the hesitation to reach out for help may not just be due to the fear of being made fun of. Many people simply do not know that help exists or where to go and find it. And those who do know, think that the help is too complicated, time-consuming or cost-prohibitive to sustain.
“There is still stigma when it comes to seeking help for mental health disorders in the Philippines,” says Dr. Robert Buenaventura, Board Secretary and Life Fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association. “This is why we appreciate efforts that continue the conversation so we can address the gaps. Misconceptions on mental illnesses just isolate those who actually suffer from the condition. We need to keep talking about it and get more people aware of the facts so they can make decisions based on science.”
Just last year, the Mental Health Act, RA 11036 was signed into law. This landmark law recognizes that every Filipino has a basic right to mental health care, establishing a national mental health policy in order to improve mental health service delivery and promote and protect the rights of persons utilizing psychiatric, neurologic, and psycho social health services.
“This law truly changes things,” says Dr. Eleanor Ronquillo, Psychiatry Consultant at The Medical City’s Department of Psychiatry.“But we know it may take a while to be fully in effect. In the meantime, challenges still remain. We want to see more healthcare professionals dedicated to mental health and definitely more public information about the differences and myths surrounding them. It might seem daunting but it is not impossible as long as we all work together.”
The advancement of medical science now provides a myriad of ways to treat mental health disorders. In addition to psychotherapy and pharmacological treatments, support from family and friends is also very important. If your loved one has or shows signs of mental illness, offer encouragement and support, and have an open and honest discussion about your concerns.
Mental health is an issue that concerns not only doctors and patients, but also the whole community – everyone plays an important role in driving change in how we talk about mental health.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, help is available.Contact the National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline at +63 917 899 8727 (USAP) and 7989 8727 (USAP).