October 25, 2004 (STAR) Filipino psychiatrists can draw from the knowledge of social science disciplines such as sociology to enable them to cope with the growing problem of mental disorders brought about, to a large extent, by poverty and other social problems.

Mental health problems, including depression and schizophrenia, are among the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide. According to a World Bank study, depression will become the second leading cause of disability by 2010.

"The need to collaborate with our colleagues in the social science field is absolutely crucial," said Dr. Lourdes Ignacio, professor of psychiatry at the University of the Philippines.

Ignacio spoke at a forum in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine of UP.

She said psychiatry’s goal of reducing the burden of mental disorders cannot be achieved without understanding the social factors that contribute to mental health problems.

"The collaboration is, indeed, crucial in addressing not only the clinical disorders – the illness itself – but also the increasing social and economic burdens from health concerns that are among the same causes of psychiatric problems," she said.

The country has more than 400 practicing psychiatrists for a population of around 85 million. Eighty percent of Filipinos cannot afford any kind of mental health service.

Over the years, local psychiatrists have adopted an American orientation "which generally attends to the mental health needs of the predominantly middle-class population," she said.

"The American system of psychiatry relies mainly on the use of medications for mental health problems, and at best give lip service in acknowledging the ways by which listening to the patient is also considered important," she added.

Psychiatrists began working with social scientists in the country in the 70s at a time when there was an increasing interest in the "biopsychosocial" approach to understanding health. This approach, which emphasizes that illnesses are caused by a combination of biological and social factors, was used as a framework in the delivery of primary health care.

From the 80s up to the present, a growing number of psychiatrists have been involved in social programs that have health concerns. These included programs on disaster mitigation, care of victims of violence and those suffering from trauma, advocacy in mental health wellness, and training of primary health care workers.

Psychiatrists involved in these programs had to work with social scientists because their specialty training did not prepare them for such activities. "We are truly grateful to (social scientists) for giving us insights and information in coming up with strategies for intervention," Ignacio said.

Yet the collaboration between mental health professionals and social scientists is still limited to medical schools and training hospitals. The UP Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine offers a total of 24 hours in teaching sociology and anthropology. "Unlike the biological science, social science remains marginal up to this time," Ignacio said.

Society’s bias against social science has spilled over to the health profession, according to Ignacio. "There is a bias that social science is not science. Another bias is the view that mental disorders can only have biological foundation, and whatever psychological and social dimension there is, is ephemeral."

The event was organized in cooperation with Sanofi Synthelabo, a leading French-based pharmaceutical company, and spearheaded by Noel de los Reyes, product manager, and Tetchak Lopez, district manager.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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