Gatchalian warns of ‘mental health pandemic’ amid increase in suicides

By HANA BORDEY,GMA Integrated News

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said on Tuesday that he could not help but conclude that a mental health pandemic was taking place in the Philippines as data showed an increase in suicides from 2019 to 2020.

At a Senate hearing on the implementation of the Mental Health Act, Gatchalian cited data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showing that reported suicide cases increased from 2,810 in 2019 to 4,420 in 2020.

Furthermore, Department of Health (DOH) data, posted on its Facebook page, indicated that there were 712 reported suicide calls in 2019; 2,821 in 2020; and 5,167 in 2021.

“Just because of the pandemic, the suicide cases went up twice and the amount of calls that you received through [the National Center for Mental Health] is only 2,800 number of calls in terms of suicide cases. In other words, ang tumatawag sa inyo 2,800 pero ang nagpakamatay 4,400. There are more unreported suicide cases. So what are we doing? The pandemic of mental health is already here,” Gatchalian said.

“That’s scary because people are now hopeless and they don’t find any use to call the hotline,” he went on.

National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) chief Noel Reyes told the Senate Health and Demography Committee that they received 21,468 calls in 2021. Of these, 7,600 were suicide-related calls.

Of the 21,468 calls, Reyes said 4,800 individuals were 17 years old and below. While most of the calls were from individuals aged 18 to 30 years old.

Right now, Reyes said they had no data on reported suicide cases from these calls.

“We should start consolidating these calls to know if we are doing enough or not doing enough." said Gatchalian. "We have a law, but we don’t know if the law is effective or not. We have a law, but we don’t know if we are implementing it to the letter or not.”

Meanwhile, Gatchalian asked what the DOH was doing about the mental health situation.


Reyes said the NCMH had expanded the hotline numbers and made them toll-free so these were accessible to individuals who need help.

The NCMH also trained their responders in terms of suicide prevention and they continued to improve other government agencies' ability to address mental health problems.

Department of Health Director Razel Nikka Hao also informed the committee that they were developing different platforms, such as the Lusog Isip application, to address mental health concerns.

Since its launching, Hao said the application had reached around 13,000 individuals.

At the local government level, Hao said they were pushing for the DOH's peer support playgroup. The pilot implementation of the program is ongoing and they planned to expand it next year.

Suicide prevention at the school level was also pre-tested this year on some campuses, and they and the Department of Education were discussing how the capacity to address mental health concerns could be increased.

Hao said they would include in their 2024 budget funds for the deployment of health personnel in schools to figure out more ways to identify different types of people who were prone to suicide.

While the NCMH and the DOH presented steps in addressing mental health problems in the country, Gatchalian was still concerned over the lack of data analysis on suicide cases.

The DOH and the NCHM vowed to provide the Senate panel with updated figures as requested by Gatchallian to present the entire picture of the country's mental health situation. — DVM, GMA Integrated News