Mental health groups offer online consultations as suicide rates spike through pandemic

August 28, 2020 - 7:05 PM
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Two local mental health organizations stepped up to provide online consultations to Filipinos following reports on the rise of suicide incidents in the country.

The National Center for Mental Health issued guidelines for its online consultation services and Mental Health PH, a volunteer mental organization, issued a statement about how the government should recognize the efforts of mental health professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

These were responses to the statement of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, who told reporters last Saturday, August 22 that government officials sought the help of religious leaders to provide counsel to Filipinos experiencing mental health struggles.

Guevarra said that it was Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer, who informed him about “the alarming increase in the number of suicides during these pandemic times” on the night of August 21.

“He is seeking the help of our churches and spiritual leaders in providing counsel and guidance to their members and followers who are undergoing depression due to loss of employment or livelihood, the 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 in a statement.

“I share Secretary Galvez’s concern and respectfully request our spiritual leaders to bring this much-needed message of hope to our suffering countrymen in order to stave off more incidents of self-destruction,’ he added.

Last May, the World Health Organization already warned governments of a new form of crisis during the worsening pandemic—the mental health toll of it.

READ: UN warns of global mental health crisis due to COVID-19 pandemic

Frontline health workers, women and individuals with existing mental health conditions are among the groups of people vulnerable to developing mental health illnesses.

Not by religion alone

Although the national government did raise the concern on suicide cases, government officials still failed to acknowledge the importance of proper mental health services to prevent them.

Filipinos pointed this out on social media and noted that mental health issues are not resolved through religion alone.

“I’m Catholic and I don’t underestimate the power of prayers pero sorry to say but some priests or religious leaders don’t understand mental health issues. I attended the mass and topic is suicide, some priests would look at it as a sin,” one user wrote.

“Mental health is a concern of the society as a whole, not zeroed in on religion alone. Make mental health services accessible to all, involve the community as a whole,” mental health advocate Dr. Gia Sison wrote.

Other Filipinos quipped that the government seemed to forget local mental health professionals exist.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

One Facebook user also suggested that Filipinos should learn to be more kind and uplifting to one another from now on.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

In a statement on August 23, Mental Health PH similarly expressed hopes that the government would not forget the hard work of the country’s mental health professionals who are also working in the frontlines against the virus which causes COVID-19.

“While religious leaders play a vital role in nation-building, let us also not forget our important frontliners—psychiatrists, psychologists, psychometricians, guidance counselors and other mental health professionals and other allied health care workers,” the group said.

Mental Health PH also stressed that it’s about time for both the private and public sector to work together “in promoting and protecting every Filipino’s mental health and well-being.”

In their social posts, the group also attached free crisis hotlines:

  • NCMH Crisis Hotline: 0917-899-8727 or 7-9898727
  • Philippine Red Cross Hotline at 1158
  • In-Touch Crisis Line at 8-893-7603, 0917-8001123, 0922-8938944

NCMH also opened its out-patient section for its online consultation services or E-Konsultasyon.

In a Twitter thread, NCMH indicated that this section is open only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 am to 3 pm.

The state-run organization launched its national mental health crisis hotline last May.

Silakbo Ph, a digital publication dedicated to educating Filipinos about mental health, also compiled a list of mental health and psychosocial support facilities in the Philippines.