Mental health aid should be included in all disaster response activities and plans. This was the call made by several mental health advocates in the wake of the series of disasters that displaced thousands of people in the northern part of the Philippines in recent weeks.
Claretian missionary priest Victor Sadaya said all types of relief help seemed to have already been extended to disaster victims except for “psychological intervention.”
The priest heads the Porta Coeli Center for Psychotrauma Management and Pastoral Counseling in the national capital of Manila.
“The government should respond to the immediate needs of the people, but the next thing should be to provide people with psychological intervention,” said Father Sadaya.
The priest said disaster victims should be fed and given shelter, but their mental health should not be forgotten.
He said there are just too many disaster victims and too little psychological counselors in the country.
Data from the World Health Organization show that there are only three mental health workers for every 100,000 Filipinos in 2006.
Father Sadaya said that once a person experienced trauma, psychological intervention is necessary before post-traumatic stress disorder develops.
He said the government should consider and respond “to the whole being of the person, which includes the mind.”
“We have to consider that their mental health conditions have an effect on their emotion, physical health, and behavior,” said the priest.
He said that if the psychological needs of people are not addressed, “there will likely be an increase in anxiety or depression, and when that happens, people become vulnerable to commit suicide.”
“The needs of the people are very urgent. The more you delay response, the more lives will be lost,” said Father Sadaya.
Dr. Gia Sison, adviser to the Philippine Youth for Mental Health Coalition, said the small number of mental health workers in the country should not be an excuse to the lack of psychological assistance to people.
“We need the relief operations, but more than ever, we need psychological first aid, and everyone can do this,” Sison said. “You don’t have to be a psychologist to do it,” she added.
Sison clarified, however, that “psychological first aid” is not psychological debriefing, “so we still need professional help after providing assistance.”
“It helps that these people know there’s someone listening to them and that they can run to someone for support,” said Sison.
The mental health advocate said psychological help should be included in disaster response plans, especially with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, author of the country’s Mental Health law said: “Mental health response should be integrated in disaster risk reduction and management as disaster aggravates pre-existing mental health conditions and makes [people] more vulnerable.”
The law underscores the “basic right of Filipinos” to mental health care while shaping structural and attitudinal challenges to achieving positive mental health.
“National government agencies should ensure that minimum mental health care services are available, such as psychological first aid and basic mental healthcare services,” said Hontiveros.