Mental health to be a DOH priority

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Mental health won't take a backseat in the health agenda of the Duterte administration.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial included "modern-day living diseases," particularly mental health, on the list of the priority concerns of the Department of Health (DOH).

On Thursday, the DOH signed an agreement with the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation  (NGF) to establish "Hopeline," a 24-7 suicide counseling hotline. The partnership will be rolled out in September.

Aiming to raise awareness about depression, fashion designer Jean Goulbourn started NGF after her daughter Natasha committed suicide at the age of 27.

WATCH: Preventing suicide

"It's not visible to the eye. Kung merong (If there is) heart attack, cancer, kita mo yun eh (you can see it)," Ubial said. "Pero mental health wala (But not with mental health.) It can be anyone of you here."

According to the health department, all suicides can be prevented.

Project Hopeline aims to help people suffering from depression by connecting them to counselors and mental health professionals.

Trained "crisis responders" answer the calls and give the callers information and crisis support. People with suicidal tendencies are provided with a suicide safety plan.

If the caller needs help that cannot be provided over the phone, the responders refer them to a medical facility.

NGF currently has nine crisis responders stationed in Metro Manila.

WATCH: Depressed? Talk about your feelings

The Philippines has the lowest suicide rate among ASEAN member states. But mental illnesses, such as depression, persist in the country.

The suicide rate in the Philippines is 2.5 for men and 1.7 for women (per 100,000 population), according to the DOH's National Center for Mental Health.

In 2012, the DOH estimated more than 2,500 suicides: 2,008 males and 550 females.  According to the World Health Organization, suicide is more common in males than in females.

Mental health law

The mental health legislations filed by Vice President Leni Robredo and by Sen. Pia Cayetano — House Bill 5347 and Senate Bill 2910 — failed to pass in the previous Congress.

A mental health law would enhance mental health services, protect the rights of the mentally ill, and create a new national mental health council.

It would also require medical students to study mental health.

Pushing for the passage of the mental health act, the Philippine Psychiatric Association have started an online petition called #MHActNow.