In a landmark move, The Philippines House of Representatives last month unanimously passed a bill that will lead to the country’s first law on mental health.
In a country where mental illness is stigmatized, the measures will create a national mental health policy, and promise to protect the rights of those living with mental illness.
From Quezon City, Madonna Virola has this report.
When I arrived at the Van Gough restaurant in Quezon City, volunteer Cherry delos Santos, made me a welcome herbal tea. The restaurant is named after Dutch artist Van Gough, who sought solace from mental illness in painting.
Chef Joven leads me to a peaceful garden out the back, and tells me this place is a haven for people experiencing mental illness.
Joven tells me that until 3 years ago, life was a struggle. Living with bipolar 1, learning to accept himself hasn’t been easy.
“I didn’t have a purpose in life, so I got into all kinds of vices, like gambling, drugs, everything. I thought I couldn’t change, and a better life wasn’t possible for me. I became violent,” he recalled.
Bipolar is in his family. Joven’s older brother Jethro also has the condition.
With few avenues of support available, and few places to speak openly about mental illness, Jethro was inspired to open the Van Gogh restaurant.
The two brothers now run the operation, which doubles as a safe space for people who are learning to cope with mental illness.
Senator Rissa Hontiveros is a big supporter of the project. She’s also worked tirelessly to push the Mental Health Bill through parliament.
Last month, she was celebrating. The bill was unanimously agreed to by the House of Representatives. When President Duterte signs it into law, it will become the country’s first mental health law.
Senator Rissa explains that the law will shift responsibility for mental health to government. It requires the Department of Health to provide a comprehensive package of mental health care to all Filipinos.
“The bill the seeks to mandate the Department to provide these services, especially at the regional, provincial and tertiary level hospitals. And also to increase the number and capacity of health service providers down to the community level.”
Senator Rissa continued, “not just psychiatrists, but also doctors of other specialtions, nurses, midwives and barangay or village workers. At the very least to be able to diagnose signs of mental health concerns and be able to refer the patient, or the service user as we call them, to the services and the service delivery network.”
There are currently approximately 60 psychiatric health centers across The Philippines; two of them public, and 58 private. More than half are in the capital. The new mental health law will expand these services.
Mental illness is on the rise in The Philippines. According to the Department of Health, more than 3 million people in the Philippines are living with depression, and almost as many suffer from anxiety.
At the Van Gough restaurant, Cherry tells me mental illness is widely misunderstood. The new measures aim to tackle this stigma and discrimination, requiring schools and universities to run programs that promote awareness of mental health issues.
Hospitals will be required to upgrade their facilities and recruit staff to roll out mental health care.
The new measures aim to make mental health the responsibility of the entire community, giving advocates like Chef Joven a new ray of hope.