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EDITORIAL - Mental health crisis

The pandemic lockdowns are over and full in-person classes resumed over a year ago. Prolonged forced confinement at home along with the loss of jobs and livelihoods amid COVID-19 restrictions swelled the ranks of people suffering from mental distress.

Despite the lifting of all pandemic restrictions, however, the number of people struggling with their mental health is on the rise, according to data from the Department of Health. From the start of the year until the end of October, the DOH recorded 11,182 people who called the National Center for Mental Health crisis hotline.

The number is 7,431 more than the 3,751 people who sought help for mental health problems in 2022, according to the DOH. These are the people who have sought help. Experts believe the number is much higher, but many who suffer from mental distress do not seek help or report their problem.

This reluctance, unwillingness or inability to report mental health issues can be due to the continuing stigma attached to the affliction, or the limited resources for proper response. The country passed Republic Act 11036 or the National Mental Health Act back in 2017. RA 11036 aimed to establish a mental health policy for enhanced delivery of integrated mental health services. It also seeks to protect from harassment and stigma persons accessing psychiatric, neurological and psychosocial health services.

Yet implementation of the law has been weak. In April this year, Sen. Raffy Tulfo deplored the sorry state of the National Center for Mental Health. Acting on a tip that NCMH patients were being treated “unjustly or even worse than animals,” Tulfo had conducted a surprise inspection of the hospital. He said he was appalled by the miserable state of some of the patients, whose wards stank “worse than a pigsty.”

Tulfo noted that the wards overflowed with patients who slept on the floor without even mats, blankets or pillows. He lamented that ventilation was dismal and the heat and humidity worsened the stench of human excreta.

In addition to the lack of mental health care facilities, the country has an acute lack of mental health professionals. Most schools lack guidance counselors with even basic training