On Mental Health Day, let’s face a neglected national crisis

This year’s World Mental Health Day comes amid an unprecedented pandemic. We can use this as a unique opportunity to increase conversations about mental health. Although increasingly becoming mainstream, mental health conversations in our country are still lacking. Stigma and lack of education about such issues are still widespread. The increasing lockdowns, domestic abuse, unemployment, fear, and uncertainty are just some of the factors that add to the mental burden on everyone, especially the marginalized.

On top of all these stressors, humanists and non-believers, who likely found living in the Philippines a challenge even before the pandemic, may find it even harder, especially if their families don’t know their irreligious identity. Data from the Filipino Freethinkers survey on Religion and Belief shows that over 68% of openly non-religious respondents said they had felt discriminated against or excluded because of their non-belief. This can further take a toll on their mental health.

But regardless of someone’s religious belief (or lack thereof), times have been tough for many Filipinos. Outside the country, suicide rates vary, with some countries showing flat or even declining suicide rates. In the Philippines, however, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported 4,420 suicides in 2020, up 57% from 2019. Likewise, the National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline director says that their hotlines are now getting 1000 calls a month, a drastic 233% increase from last year.

Whatever the cause for this increase, it shows that the Philippines has a mental health crisis. “There is less than one mental health worker for every 100,000 Filipinos, and many are currently unable to gain access to services,” said Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III. This problem is exacerbated by the stigma on mental health issues, which could lead to Filipinos not seeking professional help. And when Filipinos try to access professional help, they’re often met with hurdles such as long queues, expensive fees, or professionals who aren’t a good fit.

We need to do so much more to help others, to help each other. But most importantly, we need to help ourselves. If you are facing mental health issues, here are some hotlines and online resources:

National Center for Mental Health hotlines: 0917-899-USAP (8727) or 899-USAP (8727)

Mind Matters hotline 09189424864

UP Psychserv 98185-00 local 2496

Philippine Mental Health Association +632-921-4958, +632-921-4959

Philippine Psychiatric Association (02) 635-9858

Check out Silakbo.PH, MentalHealthPH, Youth for Mental Health Coalition for more online resources.

Filipino Freethinkers has also started its own mental health initiative. Join the FF Secular Support group for additional support.

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