Published 18 January 2019, The Daily Tribune
Passed last June 21, 2018, Republic Act No. 11036 or the “Mental Health Act” was hailed by lawmakers and advocates alike as a landmark piece of legislation. R.A. No. 11036 recognizes mental health as integral to overall health and institutionalizes the provision of mental health care services to all those in need of it. The law was passed amid the consecutive suicide of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, at a time when global attention was turned to mental health.
Mental Health Rights
R.A. No. 11036 defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes one’s own abilities and potentials, copes adequately with the normal stresses of life, displays resilience in the face of extreme life events, works productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a positive contribution in the community.”
In order to achieve a state of mental health, a “service user” or one with experience of any mental health condition requiring or undergoing psychiatric, neurologic or psychosocial care, is afforded certain rights under R.A. No.11036. Such rights include the right to information about and access to comprehensive, evidence-based, and affordable mental health services at all levels of the national health care system, as well as the right to humane treatment free from solitary confinement, cruel and degrading punishment, torture, and invasive procedures not backed by scientific evidence.
At all times, the service user has a right to give or withold his or her written consent before treatment. The right can be denied only in exceptional cases like in psychiatric or neurological emergencies, or in case of impairment or temporary loss of the service user’s decision making capacity. However, the latter may choose to designate up to three persons, deemed “supporters,” to assist him in decision-making. These supporters are authorized to access his medical information, to consult with him vis-a-vis any proposed treatment, and to be present during his medical consultations or treatment.
Mental Health Services
R.A. No. 11036 seeks to establish a comprehensive, integrated, effective, and efficient national mental health care system responsive to the Filipino’s psychiatric, neurologic, and psychosocial health needs. Thus, it imposes duties on the Department of Health (DOH), the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), hospitals, mental health facilities, and local government units down to the barangay level in order to meet the aforementioned objective.
Under the law, the DOH shall fund the operation of community-based mental health care facilities such as clinics and a complement of mental health professionals and volunteers, coordinate with Philippine Health Insurance Corporation to ensure the availability of insurance packages to service users and provide support services for the latter’s family and co-workers, mental health professionals, and other service providers.
The CHR shall inspect mental health facilities to ensure that service users are not subjected to degrading treatment, and investigate all cases involving involuntary treatment or confinement.
Hospitals and mental health facilities shall provide all kinds of mental health services such as in-patient and out-patient healthcare and shall inform service users of their rights under R.A. No. 11036. Mental health services shall also include mechanisms for suicide intervention and prevention, such as twenty-four seven (24/7) suicide hotlines to assist at-risk individuals with their mental health conditions.
Every Local Government Unit (LGU) shall develop their own mental health care program according to the guidelines of the Philippine Council for Mental Health, the DOH arm tasked to oversee the implementation of R.A. No. 11036. LGUs must also ensure that mental health services are available at the city, municipal, and barangay levels.
The penalties for violation of the Mental Health Act ensure that the law is not just empty rhetoric. Violators are meted out the penalty of imprisonment of six (6) months to two (2) years, or a fine of P10,000 to P200,000, or both, for acts such as the failure to secure informed consent of the service user, violation of the service user’s confidentiality of information, discrimination against a person with a mental health condition, and administering inhumane, cruel, degrading or harmful treatment not based on medical or scientific evidence.
Without a doubt, the Mental Health Act is a milestone in the country’s healthcare system as it finally acknowledges the indispensability of mental health to the Filipino’s total health and expands the law’s protection to those who once suffered in silence.
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