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Risa Hontiveros: Pushing Limits for Universal Health Care

Taking visible steps. Senator Risa Hontiveros together with other Mental Health advocates during the filing of the Senate Bill 1190 also known as the “Philippine Mental Health Act of 2016” (Photo from http://www.wazzuppilipinas.com)

“Knowing what’s happening, understanding what’s happening and forming an opinion and based on that opinion, trying to find out what can be done – that’s what I’m passionate about.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros shared this on her interview with 100 magazine when asked about her passion for public service. Netizens have dubbed her as an advocate of all the righteous things; on  LGBT rights and discrimination, on seeing the war on drugs as part of public health, on the Reproductive health bill and now on the rights of mental health patients.     

Act of change

The Philippines is the only country in the ASEAN region without an existing law protecting the rights of mental health patients despite the growing numbers of Filipinos suffering from mental health disorders. It is stated on a report made by the World Health Organization that the Philippines among South East Asian countries had the highest number of people suffering from depression. In line with this, Senator Risa Hontiveros proposed the Senate Bill 1190 or the Mental Health Act.

Senate Bill 1190 discusses a more detailed rights of mental health patients regarding their medication and health care. It was stated in the bill that Filipinos who suffer from mental health disorders should be given enough psychiatrists and mental health facilities to turn to. MH act also protects people with mental health disorders by stating that they should not be shamed or discriminated because of their illness.

Hontiveros had been pushing the act that would cater to the needs of people with mental and psychiatric disorders. She wanted the country to have enough doctors, services and facilities so it may help carry the burden of Filipinos with mental health illnesses . Moreover, during her term as a board of PhilHealth, the organization had been planning PhilHealth benefits for Filipinos who finds it hard to earn money to support their medication and mental health needs.

Breaking the stigma

She also start campaigning for mental health awareness when the Senate Bill 1190 was proposed. A series of mental health related events had Hontiveros as one of their key speakers. She often state that if we really wanted to help our fellow countrymen regarding their mental illnesses, the first thing we should do is understand what they are going through. With this, the misconceptions surrounding people with mental disorders should be erased.

She added during her speech on the University of the Philippines,These labels, which stem from the lack of understanding on  mental health and mental health rights, stigmatize many people including young people and prevent them from getting the proper treatment out of shame and embarrassment.

The senator also shared a study by the World Health Organization that depression, anxiety and mood disorders are the leading mental illnesses among teenagers while the report released by the National Youth Commission on 2015 stated that 2 out of 10 Filipinos wanted to commit suicide. Due to that numbers, campaigns against discrimination on people with mental disorders were being conducted on different parts of the country to help inform the public that a mental illness is not what defines a person.  A person suffering from depression or anxiety is more than their illness, they were people who need understanding and professional help.

Healthy Pinoy, Healthy ‘Pinas

Hontiveros wanted more mental health discourse on the Philippines for she hopes that the time will come where mental health patients were not hesitant on seeking for help because they are not being shamed. The journey on a stigma-free country against mental health is surely a long process but because of the proposed bill, we are making progress. Together with Senator Risa Hontiveros, we will keep trying everyday for our people and we will make the government see that this bill is an important leap towards  a healthier nation.

Health Pinoy, Healthy Pinas is not just a pipe dream. It can be achieved in our lifetime. Sadyang may mga bagay na hindi binibitawan,” Risa shared when asked why she wanted universal health care including mental health to push through.

With the senator’s proposed bill and the partnership of the Department of Health and the Natasha Goulborn Foundation with HOPE Line, the country is surely making its way on a better nation where mental health is recognized to be as important as physical health and the mentally ill is not diminished with terms such as ‘crazy’ or ‘attention seeker’. The senate is still processing the MH act or the Senate Bill 1190 but together with Hontiveros, let’s keep hoping that the government sees the light on this matter and let us stand together as a nation on supporting mental health awareness.


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