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Amicus Curiae

The Mental Health Act: A Boon to Filipinos

Genie Celini D. Nuevo

October 24, 2018

With the alarming increase of mental health illnesses today, with more than 300 million people suffering from depression alone according to the World Health Organization, the enactment of Republic Act No. 11032 or the Mental Health Act last 20 June 2018 is a boon to Filipinos. It is an affirmation of the basic right of all Filipinos to mental health as well as the fundamental rights of people who require mental health services.

The law which advocates for the integration of mental health care in the basic health services, calls for local government units (LGUs) to ensure that mental health services are provided in primary health care facilities and hospitals in their jurisdiction. In support thereof, the Department of Health (DoH) is mandated to coordinate with the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation to ensure that insurance packages are available to patients affected by mental health conditions. The DoH shall also provide assistance to LGUs with medical supplies and equipment needed by health workers in the barangay level to carry out their functions in the promotion of mental health.

More than easing access to mental health services, the law champions the humane treatment of people with mental health conditions, free from solitary confinement, torture, and other forms of cruel, inhumane, harmful or degrading treatment and invasive procedures not backed by scientific evidence. On this account, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is given an investigative role, to inquire into involuntary treatment, confinement, or care of service users for the purpose of ensuring strict compliance with domestic and international standards respecting the legality, quality, and appropriateness of each treatment, confinement, or care. Public and private health facilities are mandated to create their respective internal review boards, which shall include representatives from the DoH and the CHR, to review cases involving the treatment, restraint or confinement of service users within their facilities.

Service users are required to provide their informed consent in writing prior to the administration of a specific treatment, save for certain emergencies or situations. They could either give an advance directive stating their preference in relation to a treatment or appoint a legal representative who could act as substitute decision maker. The availment of mental health treatment, as well as all relevant information pertaining to a person’s psychiatric, neurologic, and psychosocial health, is accorded with confidentiality.

To promote better understanding of mental health, educational institutions are tasked to develop policies and programs for students, educators, and other employees designed to raise awareness on mental health issues, and identify and provide support and services for individuals at risk. Mental health education is to be integrated into the curriculum at all educational levels, and public and private educational institutions are now required to have a complement of mental health professionals to cater to their respective school communities.

As for the workplace, employers are enjoined to develop policies and programs on mental health in the workplace designed to raise awareness on mental health issues, correct the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions, identify and provide support for individuals at risk, and facilitate access of individuals with mental health condition to treatment and psychological support.

Violation of the Mental Health Act, particularly the failure to secure informed consent of the service user, violation of confidentiality of information, discrimination against a person with a mental health condition, and administering inhumane, cruel, degrading or harmful treatment not based on medical or scientific evidence, is punished by imprisonment of not less than six (6) months, but not more than two (2) years, or a fine of not less than P10,000, but not more than to P200,000, or both.

It is hoped that with the present Mental Health Act, the Philippines would have a more effective vehicle in promoting the mental well-being of every Filipino. Indeed, it is high time that the issue of mental health in the Philippines be given the proper recognition rather than viewed with apathy and ridicule. After all, it is a concern which affects, in one way or another, all Filipino citizens, regardless of wealth and status.