In the midst of this pandemic , a white-sand project by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was proposed and now finished to beautify Manila Bay. This multi-million-peso rehabilitation project, however, received a lot of criticisms from netizens. Using memes, people showed their frustrations, which circulated on different social media platforms.  

But, Harry Roque, the Presidential Spokesperson, immediately defended the decision of the department with the statement, “Sa gitna ng pandemya, kailangan din pangalagaan ang mental health. I think iyong pagpapasyal sa mga lugar kagaya ng Manila Bay na may white beach, hindi mo maku-quantify ang epekto niya pagdating sa mental health ng ating mga kababayan, ‘yung kapayapaan na mag-isip at ‘yung break.”  [Amid the pandemic, we also need to take care of our mental health. I think visiting places like Manila Bay with a white beach, you can’t quantify its effect on mental health; on one’s peace of mind, and taking a break.]

This statement, though started a new argument about the government’s sudden “concern” with the mental health of Filipinos.

State of Mental Health in the Philippines Today

Today, 17 to 20 percent of Filipino adults and 10 percent aged 5 to 15 suffer from mental health problems.

There are 3.3 million Filipinos who suffer from depression and 3.1 million from anxiety. Other disorders include schizoaffective disorder, acute and transient disorder, and stimulant-related disorder.

Despite the alarming numbers of Filipino who suffer with psychiatric conditions, funds set aside for mental health is insufficient—5% of the health department’s annual budget. With this, it’s obvious that they don’t consider mental health as a priority for Filipinos.  

What needs more attention?

According to the latest numbers from the Philippine Health Information System on Mental Health (PHIS-MH), schizophrenia is the no.1 mental health problem in the Philippines. The majority of patients belong to the age group of 20 to 44.

The severe nature of the disorder can affect one’s ability to function properly in every day life. This may lead to a massive impact to the sufferer’s family. And because of the lack of awareness and scarcity of budget for Filipinos, many untreated schizophrenic patients are homeless and worse locked up or chained by their family. Instead  of receiving a proper treatment and medications.

While mental health facilities in our country are not accessible to most Filipinos because there are roughly 7% hospitals of both public and private have a psychiatric unit.

The cost of checkups, therapies and medicines are not cheap as well. Depriving the people of lower incomes to get the help they need. There may be some institutions who provide free medicines, but is still not enough.

Out of millions of Filipino sufferers of psychiatric conditions, we only have 700 psychiatrists and 60 mental health facilities. So, there’s 1 psychiatrist for every 29, 831 patients, . That’s clearly why treatment is inaccessible to most people. 

Now, let’s look at the biggest facility for mental health in our country, National Care for Mental Health. And see how insufficient budget is also evident in the center. The photos are from a documentary by Maki Pulido last 2017 about the situation of mental health in our country.

It’s sad that they’re treated like prisoners.  Because most of the time they’re more a danger to themselves than to others.

Or is it not enough that they’re already prisoners of their own minds to treat them like this?

Now, do you think this Manila Bay white sand is helpful for the mental health of Filipino especially now in the midst of pandemic?

When we’re not even allowed to travel yet?

Let’s hope the higher ups remember that mental illness is the 3rd most common form of morbidity among Filipinos. And address what’s truly needed attention and action.

With all the scarcity of anything mental health, what we least need is a fake white sand beach.