Lack of awareness hinders mental health services for kids among LGUs

Lack of awareness among local government units (LGUs) of national policies and programs on mental health and child mental health services has been identified as a “significant barrier” to the implementation of such programs, according to a new study.

In a report published this month and made by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the Research Institute for Mindanao Culture and Burnet Institute, and representatives of various sectors, said that many LGUs were unaware of the appropriate policies and their role in bringing awareness. health services for children and young people.

“This was seen as very important, given that LGUs are responsible for the use and allocation of resources but may not prioritize mental health,” the study said.

“At the local level, LGUs are responsible for financing and implementing the mental health system, although the focus is on actions related to responsive care,” it added.

‘Strength and support’

The report noted that the mental health of children and young people up to the age of 18 is one of the “most neglected problems in the world.”

In the Philippines, survey data and published studies of their mental health needs showed that anxiety and depression and behavioral problems affecting learning were among the most common problems.

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Under Republic Act No. 11036 or the Mental Health Act, LGUs are mandated to formulate and implement effective policies and regulations for mental health care and wellness.

They are also required to develop training programs that will improve the capacity of care providers at the local level and “establish, reorganize and modernize” mental health care facilities in their areas.

But according to the study, “stakeholders noted the lack of awareness or prioritization of mental health by LGU authorities and poor communication across sectors as influencing parameters. [policy] working at the local level.”

A few doctors

“To overcome these challenges, the stakeholders recommended that a special coordination framework be established to build awareness, capacity and support for LGUs to implement mental health policies,” the report said.

It also cited the National Mental Health Strategy which calls for the establishment of mental health councils in all 16 regions by 2023 to complement local planning efforts and program implementation.

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“It was also recommended that each LGU be required to set aside a designated amount in each budget to support…a program, …such as the Gender and Development program that requires a 5 percent share of the total budget,” the report said.

The limited number of trained staff was also seen as a major challenge, as this resulted in high caseloads and referral bottlenecks that delayed access to health care.

“There are approximately 2,051 experts working in government and non-government areas. Of the 567 registered psychiatrists, 60 are child psychiatrists,” said the report, citing data from the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Atlas in 2017.

Most of these workers are located in urban areas and in higher education hospitals, resulting in limited access to specialists in rural areas, it added.

A representative of the health sector that participated in this study said that the country does not have neuro-developmental and behavioral pediatricians.

“There are very few applicants [because] the income earned outside the country is very high. In fact, we have been offering new doctors to come to us for training, but no one has applied,” said the interview.

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Barangay health workers

To address the problem of staffing limitations, the report recommended improving the training of primary health care providers to provide mental health care, as it emphasized that “children and youth can be effectively managed at the primary care level.”

It noted that barangay health workers can also play a role in providing these services.

“Participants suggested improving the training and supervision of barangay health workers … developed specifically to support child and adolescent mental health,” the study said.

“This may involve more junior health workers with a primary focus on children and young people, where MHPSS (mental health and psychosocial support services) can be integrated into their role,” it added.

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