Mental health and political leaders | Inquirer Opinion
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Mental health and political leaders

/ 12:26 AM September 29, 2016

Bigkis of the University of the Philippines Manila and other youth organizations launched last Monday the Semicolon Project, which aims to raise awareness on mental health and to push for the passage of legislation on mental health. The Semicolon Project, a global advocacy, also hopes to spread information on counseling services as well as the activities of groups espousing mental health.

Why “Semicolon”? The punctuation mark indicates that the sentence is not ended, that it will continue because there is more. Young people who are fighting depression and have thought of ending their lives need not feel they are alone. And to show that they will bravely forge on and be in solidarity with those who are facing the same challenge, some now sport the semicolon tattoo.


The proposed Mental Health Act is the initiative of the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA). It aims to protect the rights of people with mental disorders by establishing an official body that will oversee the policies and programs needed to prevent and treat mental illnesses, and to promote the mental health of Filipinos.

The PPA cites a World Health Organization report that says one in five people worldwide suffers from mental health problems. Sadly, in the Philippines, there are only 0.05 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. Most health insurance companies still do not cover mental-health-related issues, and those who suffer mental illness suffer a stigma as well.


Those with addled brains because of continuous substance abuse are definitely in the mental-disorder category. Although their getting there via drugs was their own decision, there could be other factors (genetic, emotional, psychological) at play. It must be stressed that these factors do not necessarily absolve them, especially if they committed crimes while under the influence.

The other day I watched a TV show with the intriguing title “My brain made me do it.” The question posed was: Can criminals simply attribute their heinous deeds to faulty wiring in the brain?

The Duterte administration’s three-month antidrug campaign is going haywire, if you ask me. Thousands have lost their lives amid cheering on one side and jeering on the other side. The circumstances that led to the deaths vary depending on who is telling the story—shoot-outs with law enforcers, buy-bust operations, extrajudicial killings, etc.

With the body count rising, it begins to look like sending drug users and pushers to the Great Beyond is better—that is, more swift and economical than investing in rehabilitation and reformation of what some refer to as the scum of society (latak, salot ng lipunan).

There are members of the population who are mentally ill through no fault of their own and who are in need of medical intervention. There are also drug addicts who chose the slippery slope that led to perdition and can’t, on their own, get back to where they once were. I know there is little or no sympathy for the latter, but if killing them is the convenient solution (with government approval, tacit or not), what kind of society are we?

But just as alarming is the state of mental health of some of our political leaders. They will not benefit from the semicolon that the Semicolon Project advocates. Maybe they ought to be given the period?

From what we see, hear, observe and read about daily, we can tell that something is going awry hereabouts. You know what I am getting at. Any psychologist, psychotherapist, or psychiatrist can have some idea, based on publicly displayed behavior (speech, body movements, etc.), of the state of a person’s mental health. One need not run a personality test to conclude that a person is out of whack.


Have you been observing anyone who’s regularly out of whack? National figures, celebrities, politicians?  Observe pa more. Do your own profiling.

In our classes on projective techniques and abnormal psychology under the late Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ, we were taught to be observant, to listen to what was not said. There is so much more to be gathered outside of the available psychological testing tools. The so-called Freudian slips, the body language, the eye contact, the hidden meanings, the ranting, the raving, the frothing in the mouth. My background in behavioral science has served me well in my writing career.

When Sen. Antonio Trillanes used the words “mass murderer” to refer to President Duterte, Sen. Richard Gordon who chairs the Senate justice committee reacted: “Harsh words such as ‘mass murderer’ are uncalled for. That is reserved for Hitler, … for Stalin, … for the president of Cambodia, Pol Pot.” Let’s just say that “kill” seems to be Mr. Duterte’s favorite word.

As for world leaders,  the progressive magazine Mother Jones came out last year with a report, “The CIA’s Secret Psychological Profiles of Dictators and World Leaders Are Amazing” by Dave Gilson, with the subtitle “Psychoanalyzing strongmen, from Castro to Saddam.” The subjects of “remote profiling” were Vladimir Putin, Adolf Hitler, Ho Chi Minh, Nikita Krushchev, Fidel Castro, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, Moammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein and Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In the case of Hitler, the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s predecessor, commissioned the Harvard Psychological Clinic to evaluate him. Mother Jones’ Gilson wrote that the 240-page assessment described Hitler as an insecure, impotent, masochistic and suicidal neurotic who saw himself as “the destroyer of an antiquated Hebraic Christian superego… Sexually he is a full-fledged masochist … his old acquaintances say that he is incapable of consummating the sexual act in a normal fashion.”

The profile gave eight possible ends for the Fuhrer, suicide among them.

Neurosis, sexual impotence, paranoia, depression—these were some conditions that bedeviled these world leaders and their hapless subjects.

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