Duterte signs law to treat mentally ill for free

President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday signed a law that extends free health 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, to the nation's lowest political districts, known as barangays.

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.

Senator Hontiveros, in a statement yesterday, said that seven Filipinos turned to suicide every day and one in every five suffered from some form of mental disorder.

FREE MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

Help is finally here. No longer shall Filipinos suffer silently in the dark.

SENATOR RISA HONTIVEROS, principal author of the Mental Health Law.

Access to mental health facilities across the sprawling archipelago remains uneven, with most found only in metropolitan Manila.

The country has only one psychiatrist for every 250,000 mentally ill patients, far from the health ministry's as well as the World Health Organisation's 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 government allocates just five per cent of its health budget to mental health, most of it going to the running of mental hospitals, including salaries for their staff.

Senator Edgardo Angara, co-author of the law, has also called on the government to extend its health insurance packages to mental health patients.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2018, with the headline 'Duterte signs law to treat mentally ill for free'. Print Edition | Subscribe