Every Christmas season, our Ministry of Lectors and Commentators of Immaculate Concepcion Parish conducts an outreach program to help less privileged people inside our diocese. Last year, we went to a mental health institution for men called Brothers of Mercy of St. John of God located in Bocaue, Bulacan. This year, we went to its counterpart hospice for women, the St. John of God Hospice in Bustos, Bulacan.
Currently, the hospice takes into its care the well being of 31 women of varying types and stages of mental health illnesses. Thirty one women with different bitter pasts that the hospice tries to replace with a better now and a future by providing for their special needs which unfortunately, cannot be given by their families. Most patients were found by priests loitering in the streets. Some were left there by their own family members who were never seen visiting them there again.
Sis. Precy, a volunteer worker (one who doesn’t get paid even the minimum wage unlike those categorized as “workers”), who welcomed us and gave us an orientation before we meet the patients said that our visit would help the patients a lot. November and December, according to her, are depressive months. Ironically, Christmas time which brings all types of reunions and revelries highlight the absence of family members and lack of loved ones of the patients.
The hospice is classified as a Non-Government Organization (NGO). It doesn’t get a single cent from the government and quoting Sis. Precy, “Umaasa kami sa D’yos para sa lahat ng pangangailangan namin (We rely on God for all of our needs).” God provides through the hospice’s regular benefactors and occasional donors like us.
Commendable management of the hospice allows the patients to live comfortably. The facility is kept clean and orderly. The patients are well dressed and hygienic. I expected the facility, like the mental hospital in Mandaluyong to emit bad odor typical of its kind but that’s not the case here. Regular Holy Mass is also conducted there so when we got to talk with the patients, I was amazed to hear them talk about spirituality (yes, in spite of their conditions) and how most of their activities would include prayers.
Usually, there are no programs to be held when we visit hospices. All things are impromptu. A lot of lectors are also teachers so they were the ones asked to deliver some inspiring messages to the patients. We gave them impromptu sing and dance numbers and the patients also gave out entertaining performances. We were later allowed to talk to each patients after the performances. The men who were with us were not allowed to talk to the patients, though. The sadder thing about some mental health illnesses is that some are borne out of trauma from sexual abuse and assault. Since the patients are all women, it’s best if men are kept from a distance. The patients cannot be photographed, too.
After our encounter, I realized the strong need for a Mental Health Law to be passed. People have to be informed and educated. From the snide remarks and jokes I heard from members of our own ministry, I realized that even well-meaning persons have to be taught properly on how to handle, much less refer to, mental health issues and patients. Usually people will not make fun of people with cancer because they are aware of how cancer has yet no cure, how the treatment (chemotherapy) could be so taxing, and ultimately how cancer is not the victim’s choice. That’s not the case of people with mental health illnesses which people easily generalize and laugh at as sira-ulo, baliw, Sisa, or sintu-sinto.
We need awareness which hopefully springs forth respect and empathy which in turn moves us into treating them right. Anyway, mental health issue is an issue that could probably be affecting all of us, in one way or another, at various stages of our life.