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J&J collaborates with NCMH, PPA to provide access to mental health services during COVID-19

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By Alithea De Jesus

We cannot deny the fact that being locked down for more than half of the year is depressing, given the fact that we are never used to this kind of lifestyle because even Filipinos do not have money to buy something, going to the malls and other places keep our sanity.

Since the advent of the coronavirus, people not just in the Philippines but all over the world have faced mental health challenges related to the pandemic as this gives everyone a feeling of uncertainty, depression, morbidity, and even the issue of survival.

Cognizant of these global issues on mental health and coping up with it, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), in collaboration with the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PCA) and the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) is advocating for better access to mental health services for Filipinos during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the country continues to battle with COVID-19, the effects and burdens have been felt in the economy, as well as the mental health of individuals, caregivers, families, and healthcare practitioners.

Dr. Alessandra Baldini, SEA Director of Medical Affairs of Johnson & Johnson, shared that the urgency to address mental health stems from existing mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, depression, and neurodegeneration disorders, being further exacerbated by the current pandemic situation.

From March to August this year, the NCMH saw a spike of calls on the crisis hotline with an average of 876 monthly calls, 53 of which were related to suicide. In comparison to the months prior to lockdown where the center received only an average of 400 monthly calls from May 2019 to February 2020.

Medical Specialist III of the National Center for Mental Health Dr. Rodney Boncajes shared that the challenges brought about by the pandemic revolved around limited access to mental health services given physical distancing protocols and scarce resources.

Likewise, Philippine Psychiatric Association President Dr. Amadeo Alinea emphasized how all of these challenges are felt across the nation, even more so in the rural areas where access to mental health services are more limited.

With the theme of ‘Building Capacity for Mental Health in the New Normal,’ healthcare professionals, patients, policymakers and mental health advocates from across Southeast Asia came together last October during the fourth annual Southeast Asia Mental Health Forum to share and discuss local best practices, learnings, challenges, and recommendations on how to address the growing need for mental health services within the Region.

The event was hosted by J&J Philippines in partnership with the Philippine Psychiatric Association and was attended by over 500 participants from the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Three key themes emerged in the Forum, with regard to solutions that can be applied by the different markets in their local healthcare systems; particularly in areas of Innovation, Access, and Partnerships. These include the utilization of digital technology for telehealth and telepsychiatry services, psychotropic formulations with a longer half-life, the introduction of community-based mental health at the primary care level, and emphasis on mental health education.

Locally, some of the programs that have been mobilized to address these gaps so far include the Medicine Access Program, which focuses on the provision of uninterrupted medication while under community quarantine, and the implementation of local mental health programs in provincial and regional hospitals to lessen the need to seek treatment outside of their areas

Dr. Alinea said, “Although the COVID-19 pandemic has tested us, it has also given us an opportunity to kickstart conversations about mental health to the public, as well as the chance to educate and learn from one another on how we can build future strategies for mental healthcare.”

Over the years, J&J Philippines has played a key role in institutionalizing mental health across the country. Together with their partners in the local health sector, they’ve piloted projects that affirmed their commitment to advancing mental health, including the film Anino ng Kahapon, a project aimed to decrease the stigma of schizophrenia, the Into the Light program, which paved way for the creation of the Philippine Health Information System in Mental Health (PHIS-MH), and the Patient’s Equity to Support “Out-of-Pocket Expense”(PESO) Value project, which explored the implementation of a health financing scheme for mental health services in the country.

“It is important to understand that building capacities for mental health does not fall on just one sector’s responsibility. It is a collective responsibility that everyone must take on,” said Raghu Krishnan, President and Managing Director of J&J Philippines.

He added, “Beyond COVID-19, we at Johnson & Johnson will continue to support our partners in the local mental healthcare sectors. As leaders and innovators, we will continue to find ways to further advance the advocacy and bring every mind back to mental health and well-being.”

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