High costs, stigma prevent many Filipinos from accessing mental health care, study shows

Affordability and stigma, such as being perceived as “crazy”, are the major barriers to accessing mental health care in the Philippines, a study by a multidisciplinary center at Harvard University shows.

About 40% of the respondents, comprised of mental health and psychosocial support providers, cited the high financial costs of mental healthcare as the top impediment for Filipinos to access this service, says the study published by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s HHI Resilient Communities.

This comes as cases of anxiety and depressive disorders rose during the pandemic, reveals the survey conducted in cooperation with the Philippine Psychiatric Association and Psychological Association of the Philippines.

“The other top five barriers were stigma-related, such as feeling embarrassed or ashamed (35.9%), concern that they might be perceived as ‘crazy’ (31.0%) or weak (30.3%), and concern about family (23.4%) and other people’s reactions (22.1%),” says the study.

A total of 145 local mental health and psychosocial support (MPHSS) providers were interviewed between February 1 and April 30, 2022. The study aims to gather perceptions of Covid-19-related mental health challenges, and perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health care from MHPSS providers in the country.

Psychiatrists (82.1%) comprised the majority of the respondents, followed by psychologists (11.7%), who provided mental health services in private practices (75.2%), public hospitals (44.1%), or private hospitals (39.3%) across various regions, including Metro Manila (56.6%).

However, the study also found that most of the respondents (65.0%) perceived that barriers to access and treatment stigma have decreased since the advent of Covid-19. Most provider testimonials (62.6%) emphasized that the transition to teletherapy ensured care continuity, and in some cases, allowed for the expansion of services and service areas.

The majority of respondents (97.9%) also perceived an increase in mental health concerns in the help-seeking population in the Philippines since the pandemic hit.

Respondents observed an increase primarily in anxiety (97.9%) and depressive disorders (97.2%), followed by bipolar and related disorders (49.0%), trauma-related disorders (46.2%), and suicide risk behaviors (e.g., suicidal ideation and suicide attempts) (44.1%).

Survey respondents recommended increasing training for mental health providers or staff (82.5%), more mental health service providers (75.5%), better internet connectivity (72%), more government funding for mental health (69.9%), and greater awareness-raising for services (66.4%) to better reach communities in need.

Overall, the study findings suggest that there is still a need for more accessible and affordable mental health care in the Philippines, but the decrease in stigma related to seeking mental health care and the transition to teletherapy during the pandemic are promising developments.

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