Duterte signs law providing free healthcare to Filipinos suffering from mental illnesses

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a law that provides free healthcare services to 20 million Filipinos with various forms of mental illnesses, on June 21, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday (June 21) signed a law that extends free services to some 20 million Filipinos suffering from various forms of mental illnesses.

"Help is finally here. No longer shall Filipinos suffer silently in the dark. The people's mental health issues will now cease to be seen as an invisible sickness spoken only in whispers," Senator Risa Hontiveros, principal author of the Mental Health Law, said in a statement.

The law integrates mental health care into the country's public healthcare system.

It provides free mental health services, including counselling and medication, down to the nation's lowest political districts, known as barangays, or villages.

It also requires hospitals to open special units that will provide psychiatric, psychosocial and neurologic services, and promotes mental health education in schools and workplaces.

Seven Filipinos turn to suicide every day. One in every five, meanwhile, suffer from some form of mental disorder.

According to the latest available data from the World Health Organisation, 2,558 Filipinos - mostly men - committed suicide in 2012.

Access to mental health facilities remain uneven, as most are situated in metropolitan Manila.

The country has only one psychiatrist for every 250,000 mentally ill patients, far from the ideal ratio of one to 50,000.

The number of hospital beds available for mental health patients, meanwhile, is 4.5 for every 100,000. The number of persons with mental illnesses treated at outpatient facilities stands at 12.25 for every 100,000.

The country spends just 5 per cent of its health budget on mental health, most of it going to running the mental hospitals, including salaries for their staff.

Senator Edgardo Angara, co-author of the law, said PhilHealth, the government's healthcare agency, should now include fees for psychiatric consultations and medication under its insurance packages.

PhilHealth currently covers only hospitalisation as a result of acute attacks of mental disorders at a maximum rate of 7,800 pesos (S$198).

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