Deployed to combat and disaster-stricken areas and being away from their families for a prolonged period, military men and women are at high risk of mental health problems.
This was the concern shared by Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday during the confirmation hearing in the Commission of Appointments of Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Noel S. Clement to the rank of General.
“Ang mga sundalo natin, iba talaga ang nakikita at nadadanasan kapag nasa engkuwentro at kapag matagal hindi nakakauwi ng pamilya. Kelangan din pangalagaan ang mental health nila,” Hontiveros said.
Citing data from the AFP, the Akbayan Senator said that major depressive disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder are a growing concern.
Hontiveros, who authored the Philippine Mental Health Law signed last year, said that the new law allows for improved facilities, treatment and outpatient care for the mental health of civilians and men and women in uniform alike.
“Improvements can be made in the programs of V. Luna Hospital and field hospitals to cater to the mental health needs of our military men and women”, urged Hontiveros. “This means more counselors and more mental health professionals in catchment areas,” she added.
The Philippine Mental Health Law author also urged the AFP to devise programs that will address the stigma surrounding mental health. “Alam kong may macho culture sa ating military,” Hontiveros noted. “Pero hindi naman siguro nakakabawas sa pagkalalake o pagkatao ang magpatingin at mag-undergo ng treatment para sa mental health,” she added.
Hontiveros said that stigma is still the biggest barrier to treatment. “Conditions get worse because people refuse to get diagnosed or seek treatment because they are afraid that their comrades will ridicule or judge them”, she added.
“Sa tingin ko, malaki ang gampanin ng liderato ng ating AFP sa pag-address sa ganitong stigma. Kabalikat ng mental health promotion program para magkaroon ng gradual na pagbawas ng stigma, kailangan din ang expressed support mula sa AFP Chief-of-Staff para pangalagaan ang mental health ng ating mga sundalo,” concluded Hontiveros.