July 26, 2017, 2:40 am
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Milking money from a mental malady

Tucked away and hidden among warehouses, garages and factories, as if the accidental anonymity were intended, the school catering to society’s subterraneans made good money milked from an unfortunate population with both intellectual and mental health concerns. 

In a manner of speaking, both parents and students were trapped by unfortunate circumstance and were forced into a compromise. That ugly reality on one end of fate’s darkest spectrum was unfortunately matched by the uglier reality of predatory greed.

Of its population of a less than a hundred, over three-quarters were transferees from either first or second choice branded and pedigreed learning institutions. This third, perhaps even fourth choice, was not in the same league --  a decision its operators were content with. Like other businesses enjoying fat tax perks and largely cash-based revenues, underneath the veneer and well-behind the woodwork, the money - milking enterprise was simply a business for profit operation.

But unlike others, it offered something better schools did not. Approximately ten percent, perhaps even higher, of its population were afflicted with mental health concerns. 

Lurking at the fringes and escaping the scrutiny of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the school took in students afflicted with issues that ranged from simple attention deficit disorders, to chronic mental depression, to clinically diagnosed and documented autism despite the blatant absence of qualified teaching and professional on-site counseling personnel. 

Here is a question of ethics where an educational enterprise sucks up good money and yet, from square one, with full knowledge of the special requisites of afflicted students, offers an expensive package that is not only inadequate to address special needs, but could well endanger students and lead to suicidal consequences. 

After all, deep and manic depression and suicidal tendencies induced by alienation and a competitive classroom environment can aggravate delicate conditions. More so can constant failing grades from a teaching staff ill-equipped to address special needs.

The question of ethics is deeply profound and far-reaching. The attraction of easy money milked from parents-in-denial and vulnerable enough to shell out humongous amounts founds the debate.

In one corner the stinging societal stigma associated with mental health remains a reality some parents are unwilling to address. For those parents, and their afflicted children, all desperate and condemned by circumstance, options are limited. Around the bend lurks enterprising predators offering quick solutions. Such opportunistic predation arrayed against the parental inability to accept ugly truths and the absence of choices create social abuses. 

These, surprisingly, are not uncommon. They are simply spoken of in whispers.

Openly and quite candidly discussed by mental health advocate and author Edwin Francis in his excellent book “Swung by a Pendulum” (Francis, 2016) perhaps the most common albeit the least confronted among the mental health issues -- bipolarism -- is presented as a dark reality that cries out and demands our attention. 

Even as Francis blows the lid on a hidden crisis he is heartwarming and sensitive to those afflicted. He notes that it starts among the young and either falls unnoticed or is openly denied. Allow us, however, to sound an alarm. As in our example of a school that profits from it, there are insidious predators preying on well-intentioned families.

Inspired by Francis’s advocacy allow us to cast off a continuing series by first presenting how such vulnerabilities expose victims to being preyed upon where family earnings are sucked and siphoned dry from a manic depressive malady.

That we employed as an introduction the educational environment to depict denial against avaricious predation is deliberate. The data Francis exposes in his book substantiates our initiative. On a global scale, a 2012 treatise on the disorder identified as much as 2.5 percent as afflicted. 

Let’s bring those numbers into the classroom. In a randomly picked average-sized college class the ratio translates to one or two condemned with mental afflictions. Because mental depression, bipolarity and even substance abuse need not be directly linked, all three within a single roll call is a distinct probability. After all, depression is the second most prevalent globally while bipolarity ranks sixth. Imagine the severity of separate and several mental afflictions within an average class of students.

Now let’s zero-in on the youth where the bipolarity demographics compel us to focus. 

Francis writes that over 2.5 million Filipinos are likely to be victims in varying degrees of mental disorder and, among the most vulnerable ages, the 15 to 44 year old grouping is perhaps the most vulnerable. 

Again, crunch out the numbers. That’s the age group that should be the most productive. Unfortunately, within that majority, approximately 50 percent  are within the collegiate system. Where a school’s business model preys on such students despite their inadequacies, as in our school example, the population likely afflicted represents a victimized population exponentially larger than both the global or Philippine averages that Francis estimates.

Obviously for the avaricious and predatory Ferengi, a niche market exists where its unfortunate vulnerabilities are offered up as shameless business opportunities. 
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