SEATTLE, Washington — Raising awareness about the need for improved mental healthcare is a battle against stigma, culture and poverty around the world, so it is no surprise that the Philippines is one such country that faces these struggles. While there are many comprehensive mental healthcare treatments in this modern era, numerous obstacles stand in the way of providing much-needed services to people suffering from mental illness in the Philippines. The major cause, poverty, leaks into other parts of life in many ways. Impoverished people with mental illnesses are less likely to seek help because it is unaffordable.
Mental Health in the Philippines
An article published in 2019 reports that 14% of Filipinos with disabilities have identified mental disorders. However, this only includes the disabled population and mental health cases are notoriously unreported in the Philippines. Even though mental illness is recognized as the third most common cause of death in the Philippines, there are numerous variables that discourage people from seeking treatment. For one, due to cultural beliefs emphasizing family and community, many Filipinos are more comfortable seeking help from family or friends before they seek out a professional. There is also some shame associated with mental illness due to a persistent stigma seen in not just the Philippines but all over the world. People who need help often try to hide their symptoms instead of discussing them, which actually causes their mental health to get worse. A major contributing factor preventing people from seeking treatment in the Philippines is the cost of treatment. Additionally, with the lack of mental health professionals in the Philippines, it can be difficult to find an affordable counselor, psychiatrist or therapist. Just one session with a psychiatrist can cost up to 4,500 Philippine Pesos resulting in poor families being unable to afford the privilege of therapy or medication. Beyond a lack of mental health professionals, the Philippines faces major challenges in underinvestment in mental health resources along with underdeveloped services.
While there are numerous medical schools in the Philippines, poverty gets in the way of citizens seeking higher education and most medical schools do not offer many fellowships relating to specific psychiatric treatment services, so most medical students seek specialties in other fields. Due to the unpopularity of psychiatry, mental health professionals are not as widely available as they are in many other nations.
Progress Made in Mental Health
Despite these challenges, the Philippines has made substantial efforts to increase access to mental healthcare and decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness. In 2018, the Mental Health Act was passed. This act establishes mental health as a basic right to all Filipinos and aims to provide a more balanced approach to mental healthcare by addressing needs in both hospitals and communities. The act also seeks to conquer the stigma surrounding mental illness and reduce discrimination against people with psychological and psychiatric concerns.
In addition to efforts made by the Filipino government, improvements for mental health have been at the forefront of the Philippine Mental Health Association, or PMHA. Established in 1950, the PMHA organizes mental health clubs in both public and private schools across the country. It also works to raise awareness about mental illness, provide treatment and conduct research related to mental illness to continue expanding knowledge about these issues. Areas of focus within the PMHA include the Educational, Advocacy and Research Department, the Clinical and Diagnostic Services Department and the Intervention Services Department, each with its own target audiences and goals.
Looking to the Future
With the PMHA and the Mental Health Act, the Philippines is seeing steady improvements in mental healthcare but there is still a long way to go. Affordable and accessible mental healthcare is out of reach for many impoverished people around the globe but with advocacy, accessibility and educational efforts regarding mental heath, it is possible to change lives all over the world.