Amidst recent reports of increasing numbers of students being diagnosed with mental health illnesses and those committing suicide, the Quezon City local government has boosted its efforts in creating programs to assist individuals seeking help and to curb the rise in cases. 

Deped Assistant Secretary Dex Galvan earlier bared during the Senate hearing that during the academic year 2021–2022, when most schools were still closed due to the epidemic, 404 young students across the nation took their own lives and 2,147 others attempted suicide.

Mayor Joy Belmonte stressed that the city government has taken initial steps to promote mental well-being, particularly in schools.

“As early as last year, we have extended assistance to public schools by hiring justly compensated mental health professionals like therapists and counselors who will recognize mental health warning signs early on and provide short-term counseling and crisis interventions,” said Belmonte. 

She added that aside from school interventions, the city is also investing in treatments and other “holistic approaches that focus on care over and above treatment.” 

Recently, the city government  established Mental Wellness Access Hubs in each of the city’s six districts, which disburses free prescription medicines to persons with mental health disabilities. Assessment by specialists for anxiety and depression are also available at the hubs for those with no access to prescriptions.

The local government also hired more mental health professionals to be assigned in different fields such as in the Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO), to help contribute to policy making and conceptualization of programs; and in resident care facilities for the disadvantaged and marginalized. 

To further boost the city’s existing efforts, the City Council has approved and confirmed Ordinance No. SP-3158, S-2022 or the Quezon City Mental Health Code which localizes the National Mental Health Act and incorporates all existing mental health programs of the city into one, comprehensive legal framework. 

The measure aims to focus on five key areas. First, it mandates the training, education, and awareness-raising for all local service providers, beginning with the Quezon City government employees, barangay officials and personnel, and school teaching and non-teaching staff. 

Second, expansion of the services offered in Mental Wellness Access Hubs to include diagnosis and crisis intervention, and disbursement of free prescription medication. Third, the establishment of a 24/7 Mental Health Hotline for QCitizens. Fourth, the establishment of a Mental Health Half-way Home, which will serve as a temporary housing facility for recovering service users that would offer therapy and employment assistance among others.

And lastly, there will be an information and service delivery network that aims to pool together all specialists from within and outside the city. This referral network will provide the linkages to assist service users, their families and service providers such as social workers, carers and professionals, in order to address their needs by making available health, legal, social and even law enforcement services.

This ordinance ensures that the promotion of mental wellness – from prevention, treatment, care, and support services in relation to mental health – are accessible to all Quezon City residents regardless of age, gender and socio-economic circumstances. 

As of November last year, PDAO has recorded 5,154 individuals with mental and psychosocial disabilities, which comprises 23% of the more than 22,000 Persons with Disabilities who registered for the QC PWD card.

Meanwhile, data from the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) indicate a steady and significant increase in the incidence of suicide for the past 5 years, with an average of 96 suicides in Quezon City annually.

In a speech she delivered during the National Mental Health Month in November, Belmonte declared “it is our moral responsibility as a local government to contribute to alleviating the state of mental health care that studies depict are exacerbated by chronic underinvestment, lack of mental health professionals, the prohibitive cost of consultation and treatment, and the persistent stigmatization of mental health problems.”