What is Mental Health?
Mental health is a state of well-being where one can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and relate to others. It affects how we think, feel, and act. An individual’s mental health can be affected by multiple socioeconomic, environmental, and biological factors (WHO, 2018).
Natural disasters like typhoons take a toll on mental health because unexpected and traumatic events foster fear within people. Witnessing homes destroyed and losing loved ones in the process leads also to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which could last for years (Sheikh, 2018)
How was the mental health crisis present?
According to Senator Risa Hontiveros, Typhoon Yolanda survivors are still experiencing anxiety and PTSD seven years after the disaster. Most of the victims of the said typhoon were not given mental health care immediately. A woman may have survived the typhoon but the scars on her body caused by the typhoon remind her of how much and whom she had lost on that day which makes her feel lonely. Another survivor may have lived another day, but unusual gestures may have caused how she became fearful of her own mind.
This can be attributed to the fact that the administration set mental health aside to focus on basic needs (Fabrigas, 2019). In the Philippines, people have difficulty in understanding mental health. Many still believe that it is a disorder rather than the well-being of the mind (Lopez, 2019). Ignorance of mental health caused a lack of funds with only 10 psychiatrists serving a population of 4.7 million in six provinces after Typhoon Yolanda happened (Dorego, 2019). Some survivors were even forced to go back to work or to move forward towards their normal life again immediately without proper grieving from losing their loved ones or debriefing.
Aside from this, insufficient relief goods and the lack of adequate housing and decent livelihood options further aggravated the survivors’ mental well-being (Enano, 2019). Despite the help provided, these things do not keep one from living a normal life. Some of the survivors back then still thought about where to get food or how to earn a living knowing that their livelihood was swept away by the typhoon or may even be swept away again by the next typhoon even when they restart. This alone gives stress to the survivors on top of the trauma.
Call of Action
With the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses and Typhoon Rolly, survival is once again put in the spotlight with mental health staying within the shadows. Our government is focused on the blame game, rescue efforts, and relief goods distribution, but there is little to no call of providing mental health treatment to the survivors. Senator Risa Hontiveros, the author of Mental Health Law, urged the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to enforce mental health programs for the survivors and put mental health in front along with these basic needs in the evacuation centers. She urged not only to focus on the need when inside evacuation centers but as they go with their lives after the disaster. She pointed out the implementation of disaster-related MH programs seems to be very slow as the Department of Health (DOH) and DSWD are still creating the guidelines.
Senator Hontiveros calls for the inclusion of mental health in the country’s disaster risk reduction and management plans. Mirroring these sentiments, Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director Yeb Saño said that a “very comprehensive program” that responds to mental health in terms of the changing climate is mandatory after the Typhoon Yolanda crisis.
It is not enough that it is just part of the discussion in the country’s climate adaptation plans. He also mentioned that most of these discussions were only focused on post-disaster responses. Furthermore, it was not even yet included in the National Climate Change Action Plan for 2011-2028 on the country’s framework strategy for dealing with climate change (Enano, 2019).
Putting mental health in the climate change context can be difficult because of its qualitative nature. With a significant research gap in the relationship between mental health and climate change, it is also difficult for it to be included in the government’s plans (Paraso, 2019). With that being said, we are also called to educate other people and do more research in terms of relating the two. While we see mental health having an indirect impact on the changing climate, the long term impact could create destruction to one’s well being. Making this topic a trend in research better develops plans and further allows people to understand why mental health is worth paying attention to in the aftermath of natural disasters such as typhoons.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also mentioned that “mental health issues are a roadblock to transitioning back to regular life.” While donating is a good idea, we should also take note that this isn’t enough for people to get settled after the trauma. The debriefing may help them in processing the situation they’ve experienced and the situation they’re in now, but it will take a while for their mind to recover. As Senator Risa Hontiveros mentioned, “our mental health program should be executed so that our survivors can still sleep soundly at night without fearing that every rain or strong wind will end their lives as they know it.” We should be in every step of their journey to full recovery.
1. Enano, J. (2019, November 11). Six years after Typhoon Haiyan pummeled the Philippines, mental scars linger [Web log post]. Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://earthjournalism.net/stories/six-years-after-typhoon-haiyan-pummeled-the-philippines-mental-scars-linger
2. Enano, J. (2019, November 12). Mental health absent in Philippines' climate change plans [Web log post]. Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://earthjournalism.net/stories/mental-health-absent-in-philippines-climate-change-plans
3. Sarao, Z. (2020, November 24). Hontiveros urges DSWD to prioritize mental health of typhoon victims. INQUIRER.net. Retrieved December 2, 2020, from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1364182/hontiveros-urges-dswd-to-prioritize-mental-health-of-typhoon-victims
4. World Health Organization. (2018, March 30). "Mental health: strengthening our response." Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response