Amid Lack of Access to Mental Health Care, Filipinos Turn to ‘Light Stuff’, Vices in Stressful Times

Psychiatrists admit access to mental health care is one huge problem for most Filipinos, although they see that people tend to have “coping mechanisms” against the stressful realities in Philippine society today.

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat

BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) — Psychiatrists admit access to mental health care is one huge problem for most Filipinos, although they see that people tend to have “coping mechanisms” against the stressful realities in Philippine society today.

As a trend, when confronted with problems, many Filipinos opt for the lighter stuff in life: they go to videoke (sing-along) bars, watch TV or movies or indulge in tsismis (gossip-mongering). Some resort to vices like alcohol or substance abuse, according to a psychiatrist who attended the 35th Annual Convention of the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA) at Camp John Hay here.

In a media forum on mental health last Jan. 26, PPA members explained why many do not get the necessary assistance, despite pronounced symptoms that certain individuals need professional help.

Not a government priority

“Despite the fact that mental health is a top priority, even the government gives it a last place in the list of its priorities, thus PPA is now embarking on a national training program for doctors, health workers, local officials to give the population the access they need,” said Dr. June Caridad Pagaduan-Lopez, a consultant of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine’s (UPCM) Department of Psychiatry.

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her human rights and anti-violence against women advocacy, Lopez also received the PPA’s Most Outstanding Psychiatrist Award in 2007.

Lopez said Filipinos go to general physicians or the alternative healers or the albularyo when they see anything “unexplainable” in a person. In the past, the community healer would even advise against seeing the doctor for help, she said.

“Mabuti ngayon, pinapapunta na ang pasyente sa psychiatrist,” (It is good that traditional healers now ask patients to see a psychiatrist), Pagaduan said, adding these are the professionals who could understand and explain what is happening to the patient.

Reducing the stigma

For fear of the stigma attached to consulting a psychiatrist, people tended to avoid psychiatrists and instead tried other healing modalities.

Pagaduan, said, however, that it is not only psychotics, or those with mental illness, who should see a psychiatrist.

“People with problems tend to consult those close to them,” said Dr. Maria Imelda Batar, outgoing PPA president. She added that the traditional community healers or even family members would tend to tell them, “Lilipas din ‘yan,” (That will eventually go away) when the problem may even worsen because they did not consult the right person.

Traditional healers do not view suicide as a pathological problem, according to Batar. “They see it as only a part of a reaction to a severe problem,” she said. Psychiatrists, however, maintain that suicidal tendencies are just symptoms of a mental health problem.

Layman’s manual

Prioritizing mental health care delivery to where the services should go, PPA is also preparing a help manual for rural health workers that include barangay (village) health workers, nurses and doctors in rural health units.

The manual, intended for areas where there are no psychiatrists, is written in simple and non-technical language, said Dr. Jocelyn Gauzon-Gayares during one of several parallel forums on Jan. 28 as part of the PPA 35th Annual Convention.

Now in its finishing stages, the booklet will be out during the mid-year convention in July, according to Gayares.

The convention also dealt on psycho-social processing in times of disasters, psychosocial controversy on inter-sex issues, cancer pain management, renal transplants, mental health concepts and terminologies, among other topics.

A lay forum at the Baguio General Hospital capped the convention. Northern Dispatch / Posted by

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