Cautiously Optimistic: Mental Health Law

Last thursday, June 21, 2018, R.A. 11036 was signed into law in the Philippines. R.A. 11036 is also known as the Mental Health Act of 2017.

I couldn’t find a copy of it yet, but here is the Senate Bill: https://www.aseanlip.com/philippines/general/legislation/bill-of-the-mental-health-act-of-2017/AL13877

When I first heard the news, I wasn’t overjoyed. In fact, I was a bit indifferent. What would a mere law do when the society itself rejects the very thought of mental illnesses? What would a mere law do against the prejudice and stigma attached to the idea? What would it do against the people denying, disrespecting, and downright violating the rights of others?

What?

When I read the bill, my thoughts changed and I could only hope.

Hope.

Hope that this first step taken towards the recognition and acceptance will not be for naught. The act contained provisions recognizing the rights of people; particularly the “Service Users”, the family members, and to my pleasure the “Mental Health Professionals” as defined by the law. It is an affirmative action, an action that the privileged may not appreciate but it’s not for them so they shouldn’t whine. The cynic in me agrees that such law is useless. Then again, it is not. Hope is not useless. It should not be. It never will be.

The law explicitly said rights, and not privilege. It did not state any discounts, free passes, or ‘special treatment’. The treatment provided for by the law refers to a treatment of an illness, not special treatment which people with a grand sense of entitlement feel they have. Rights. They are rights which any human being should possess and should be respected. With the statement of the rights, one can hope that it will be better protected and respected, at least in a legal battle.

The law provided for guidelines on providing mental health services. Mental. Health. Services. Health Service. What a wonderful creature that I wish to be created holistically with other fields. Wow. What a concept.

“Sec. 14. Mental Health Services at the Community Level. – Within the general health care system, the following mental health services shall be developed and integrated into the primary health care system at the community level:

(a) Basic mental health services, which shall be made available at all local government units down to the barangay level;

(b) Community resilience and psychosocial well-being training in all barangays, including the availability of mental health and psychosocial support services during and after natural disasters and other calamities;

(c) Training and capacity-building programs for local mental health workers in coordination with mental health facilities and departments of psychiatry in general or university hospitals;

(d) Support services for families and co-workers of service users, mental health professionals, and mental health workers; and

(e) Dissemination of mental health information and promotion of mental health awareness among the general population.”

And there’s more:

Sec. 17. Integration of Mental Health into the Educational System. – The State shall ensure the integration of the mental health into the educational system, as follows:

(a) Age-appropriate content pertaining to mental health shall be integrated into the curriculum at all educational levels; and

(b) Psychiatry and neurology shall be required subjects in all medical and allied health courses, including post-graduate courses in health.”

The cited provisions are just part of the whole law, there’s more of it which covers concerns regarding mental health. Recognition and education, the two main things that we try and work for the society to receive. Recognition that mental health is as real as it can be, and education to help people recognize it as such. Mental disorders should be treated, not exalted or celebrated. Nobody celebrates flu or cancer. (Do they? That’s weird.)

I hope that it will be enough, enough as a first step. The fight is not over. It has only just begun. It is only a law, and the execution of it will be for anyone to guess and to guard. Until there are those who think that mental disorders are unreal, who think having problems with mental health as merely an excuse for shitty behavior (Real talk: it’s f*cking not. There’s no excuse for bad behavior, only reasons); until there are those who romanticize suicide, I can only be cautiously optimistic.

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