Mental health, suicides and gov’t response

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    ‘Guevarra should have appealed to the nation’s psychiatrists and neuroscientists first, before its priests, ministers, and other false prophets.’

    A CONGRESSMAN who filed a bill seeking to establish a government-run crisis hotline for Filipinos mentally troubled by many things especially during this pandemic has some interesting statistics to show.

    He said the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) in Mandaluyong City recently reported that its crisis hotline received about 30 to 35 calls a day when quarantine restrictions were first imposed as a way to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. By the end of May, the monthly average of suicide-related calls the center received reached 45. In comparison, the average number of calls taken by NCMH prior to the lockdown was 13 to 15 a day.

    Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra recently noted the severity and emergency nature of the problem of mental health and suicides, especially during national disasters such as the Taal Volcano eruption and the current more devastating and certainly most terrifying once-in-a-century pandemic, the COVID-19. Guevarra said he got the information that suicides among Filipinos are on the upsurge from National Task Force COVID-19 chief implementor Carlito Galvez Jr.

    And what did the secretary of justice do with this information? He immediately appealed to “churches and spiritual leaders” to provide counsel to those suffering from depression “due to loss of employment or livelihood, anxiety of being afflicted with or dying from the dreaded disease, loneliness arising from isolation and lack of hope for a return to their normal lives.” Guevarra said he requested the spiritual leaders (Catholic church, Iglesia ni Cristo, the Islamic community, etc.) to “bring this much-needed message of hope to our suffering countrymen in order to stave off more incidents of self-destruction.”

    We wonder how our medical and academic community, our psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists, physicians, neuroscientists, biologists, experimental psychologists, guidance counselors and other psychosocial frontliners felt when high government officials turn to the religious immediately after processing problems of the mind, instead of the scientific community.

    Did not Secretary Guevarra slap our medical professionals at the frontlines of the fight against the COVID-19 by reposing his trust on the Church rather than on science? We thought this Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), of which both Guevarra and Galvez are members relies, on science for their decisions on pandemic-related problems, as IATF drum-beater Harry Roque always says. Guevarra should have appealed to the nation’s psychiatrists and neuroscientists first, before its priests, ministers, and other false prophets.

    Because of Guevarra’s appeal, the Vatican boasted in no time, in a recent official statement, that the Philippine government has requested the Catholic Church to step in and tackle the problem, as if this congregation in Rome is the only one asked by Guevarra to do something, and the only organization that can do it. Without perhaps intending to, Secretary Guevarra committed a grievous error that would later on grant leverage to the Catholic Church to bargain for more parishioners allowed to attend masses, thus violating the IATF’s own restrictions on religious gatherings and social distancing. We can only hope that should they take up Guevarra’s challenge, Pabillo, Manalo, the Imams and the Sunnis, Villanueva, Ecleo, Abante, Almeda, Soriano, Quiboloy and the rest could make a dent that is better than what the nation’s psychologists could do.

    Ang Probinsyano party-list Rep. Alfred delos Santos, who filed the bill, HB No. 7210, establishing a state-run mental health hotline, is at least on the right side of the challenge for trying to do something more palpable, physical, and scientific.