Conflict, Disasters Lead to Mental Health Problems in the Philippines

by VR Sreeraman on Jul 28 2007 4:54 PM

Armed conflict, natural disasters and large-scale labour migration are causing mental disorders for up to a fifth of Filipino adults, psychiatrists said Friday.

Up to 20 percent of adults suffer from some form of mental disorder, with 10-15 percent of children suffering from mental problems, according to the Philippine Psychiatric Association.

Mental disability is a "huge public health challenge" in the Philippines since many of its citizens are exposed to various "extreme life experiences," said Yolanda Oliveros, director of the health department’s National Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

"Weve tried to identify the components that could influence the mental status of a person and we found that life experiences such as disasters and armed conflict" affect a person’s state of mind, Oliveros told an annual convention of the country’s psychiatrists.

Extreme experiences such as typhoons, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods, guerrilla activity, and the large-scale exodus of workers for overseas jobs are leading to mental disorders, she added.

The Philippine military is fighting decades-old rebellions by Maoist guerrillas as well as Muslim separatists. In recent years the security threats have increased with bombings and kidnappings by Islamic militants as well as coup attempts by military rebels.

The Philippines is hit by more than a dozen typhoons and storms every year and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common.

Oliveros said mental illness is a major challenge in the Philippines, where there are only 400 licensed psychiatrists among a national population of some 87 million.

"Thats why we are telling them to decentralise, to train general practitioners and healthcare providers since these people are (in the front line) of primary care," she added.