Editorial: Healing communities

·3 min read

“No health without mental health.”

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) dictum is the principle underlying mental health economics, which is the “study of economics... (for) identifying ways to improve mental health and mental healthcare production and consumption,” according to Nicholle Mae Amor Tan Maravilla and Myles Joshua Toledo Tan in their paper published in the “Frontiers in Psychology” on July 21, 2021.

The authors point out that the lack of studies on Philippine mental health economics (MHE) cannot be emphasized enough, given the essential need for public and private support for mental health programs urgently needed in the communities.

In 2016, community-based mental health interventions became the cry of stakeholders criticizing the militarized approach taken to “solve” the country’s crisis with illegal drug addiction through the Drug War.

In 2020, the same militarization was applied through community lockdowns and social isolation in the government’s attempts to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

Claiming thousands of lives, estimated from five to 27 thousand drug suspects killed in operations conducted by the police and vigilantes, the Duterte administration’s War on Drugs used the deaths as a metrics for managing illegal drugs’ addiction.

The curtailment of people’s freedom in mobility and livelihood during the community lockdowns in the pandemic, similar to the War on Drugs, failed to arrest the main problem these militarized approaches were supposed to address; instead, a host of problems, particularly arising from victimization, traumatization, and the abuse of human rights, arose.

Taking the perspective of sustainable development, stakeholders advocate approaching illegal drug addiction and Covid-19 as public health problems requiring medical responses that involve the community’s participation.

Instead of punitive measures that fail to lower cases of drug abuse and Covid-19, harm-reduction approaches, particularly community-based rehabilitation and recovery, are pushed by public health workers in the public and private sector.

A social problem must be traced to its variegated roots, which should identify and treat the effects of economic status, education, gender, and other mitigating factors.

As Maravilla and Tan argue, investment of resources promoting public health priorities should include mental health programs since “good mental health is significant for economic growth.”

Sharing the stake in bringing, instead of judgment and punishment, the hope of recovery and renewal to drug dependents, mental health professionals, non-government organizations, religious groups, and other members of civil society partnered since 2016 to hold outreach programs and rehabilitation centers at the grassroots, a concretization that harm-reduction approaches can bring about more meaningful effects transforming the lives of former drug dependents, their co-dependents, and their communities.

This public health approach should be mainstreamed in promoting mental health, especially in the pandemic. Quoting the Department of Health and the WHO, Maravilla and Tan report that mental illness is the third most common disability in the country, with depression and anxiety affecting six million Filipinos.

About four million Filipinos suffer from at least one kind of mental, neurological, or substance abuse disorder.

Suicide rates are reported at 3.2 for every population of 100,000, with higher rates among males than females.

Mental health programs and other harm-reduction approaches to public health should be institutionalized in workplaces and communities. Civil groups and institutions are needed as partners of government in anchoring mental health economics in the country.

For the health of every Filipino and the Philippine economy, mental health should be retrieved from the shadows and focused on by stakeholders: “no health without mental health.”

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