'Taong-Grasa' Menace Is Asiawide

Article excerpt

YOU see them men and women stark naked whose entire body, even the scanty clothes left on them, are smudged with what seems to be hardened and thickened soot or grease.

Sporting long crumpled hair, they are all over Metro Manila in downtown streets talking to themselves, scavenging in parks, loitering inside church compounds.

In such pitiful appearance and condition, they earn the moniker as a street lingo taong grasa. There are no official figures, but there are hundreds of them in the metropolis.

They are the mentally ill. Why are they on the loose in public places? Many of them escaped from mental health rehabilitation institutions.

Some ran away from their family home. And still a few managed to reach the city from the provinces on board ships or buses.

Are our government social welfare agencies helpless to haul them and bring them to mental health institutions? These places are already overcrowded and the government allocates only a meager budget less than R50.00 per patient a day.

But the problem is not only prevalent in the Philippines. All major cities in Asia are experiencing an escalating epidemic of mental illness.

A TIME special report in its November 10 issue titled Hidden Away, sums up the menace, thus: Stigmatized, abandoned, often locked up, Asias mentally ill are left to inhabit a living hell.

It is said depression and schizophrenia are two mental disorders that debilitate the health conditions of many Asians these days.

In fact, they are among five of the 10 leading causes of disability in the region, according to the exhaustive study as quoted by the newsmagazine.

Already some 200 million suffer from a mental or behavioral illness in Asia, TIME said.

For example, in India with a population bordering in the 1 billion figure, one quarter are affected with some sort of mental disorder. Alarmingly, by world standards, it has the highest suicide rates.

In a similar plane, in populous China, the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center reveals that every year 250,000 Chinese kill themselves since the mid-1990s.

What is deplorable is that most of those troubled individuals never seek medical help or treatment simply because they do not have the opportunity.

Japan, on the other hand, has the highest number of mentally ill patients in the world who are confined in hospitals. Every year, more than 30,000 Japanese commit suicide since 1998, compared with fewer than 15,000 a year in the 1970s.

Lack of resources in many poor Asian countries make the condition of mentally ill patients in hospitals horrible. …