HIGHLIGHTS

  • Beginning as a local community health doctor at Sakolnakorn, northeastern Thailand in 1930, he assumed bigger responsibilities eventually becoming chief of the Mental Hospital Division in the Ministry of Public Health, then Director General of the Department of Medical Services and in 1964 became Undersecretary of State for Public Health.
  • The institutions and methods of care for the mentally afflicted and the preventive education established under his vision and guidance are helping his people make the transition toward modernization with minimal human cost.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his farsighted design in creating and staffing superior mental health services for his country.”

 CITATION

Rapid urbanization throughout much of Asia threatens the individual caught up in this process with psychic shock. Torn from the traditional security of a family-centered rural way of life, he is compelled to make his way in a strange, new, uneasy and demanding environment. The human cost is apparent in the growing number both of mental cases and juvenile delinquents.

As Dr. PHON SANGSINGKEO has observed, “Societies have a threshold of tolerance for rate of change which, if exceeded, must lead to some measure of social disorganization.” He had made it his professional life concern to ameliorate the human price of this transformation.

Care of the mentally ill has progressed greatly since the late 19th century when in Thailand, as often elsewhere, treatment consisted of placing the afflicted in chains or locking them in small barred rooms, and administering holy water and decoctions of snuff. Today, Thailand has eight major mental institutions providing hospitalization, neurological treatment and enlightened care for mentally retarded individuals. Mental health clinics attend to outpatients and provide child guidance, aided by psychiatric units in general hospitals and mobile psychiatric units. In pleasantly designed mental hospitals named after flowers, therapy includes participation in farming, furniture making and other crafts. Although there still is scope for improved curative treatment, including acceptance of psychiatry as a vital field of medicine, emphasis now is upon prevention and mental health education.

Since he first trained to become a doctor in Thailand, except for tours of graduate study in psychiatry in the United States and Europe, Dr. PHON, now 59, has devoted his talents to government service. Beginning as a local community health doctor at Sakolnakorn in northeastern Thailand in 1930, he moved on to direct the Mental Hospital in Thonburi and become chief of the Mental Hospital Division in the Ministry of Public Health. Recognition abroad led to his election as president of the World Federation of Mental Health in 1961. The following year he was named Director-General of the Department of Medical Services and in 1964 became Undersecretary of State for Public Health.

Associates and friends affectionately remark that Dr. PHON has been “cool” like “rain”—the meaning of his name—in his approach to the mentally ill. In shaping development of his country’s mental health services and encouraging the men and women who staff them, he has combined traditional cultural practices and values with modern techniques. The institutions and methods of care for the mentally afflicted and the preventive education established under his vision and guidance are helping his people make the transition toward modernization with minimal human cost.

In electing PHON SANGSINGKEO to receive the 1966 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his farsighted design in creating and staffing superior mental health services for his country.

 RESPONSE

In accepting the 1966 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, I wish to express my deep gratitude to the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for having bestowed on me this great honor. It is indeed the highest reward I have received in my life and it makes me feel inexpressibly delighted that the fundamental importance of mental health, to which interest my life has been devoted, should be recognized by this noble Award. I will be extremely happy if I may be permitted to say a few words to express my deep appreciation.

As a medical doctor, I always think that body and mind are one and indivisible. These two elements, combining together, form the person. When I give medical treatment to a patient, I do not think merely in terms of curing a disease but I direct my efforts at treating the person as a person. So we must in our studies explore ways and means to reach a better understanding of the interaction of culture, customs and social environment on human beings. Sociology and other related subjects should be compulsorily taught in the medical schools in order that students will gain clearer appreciation of the importance of the dictum: Treat the person as a person.

It is impossible to gain understanding of the person without studying his social structure. In any society, the family is regarded as the primary unit of that society. Therefore mental health of the community must be promoted through this same family unit. When the family attains happiness and peace then it is much more likely that the community, the nation and the world will also achieve those ends. The rapid advances in technology are frequently in conflict with local culture and give rise to some of the mental health problems today. But these problems and adjustments cannot be avoided and must be faced. If, however, one seeks to understand the nature of the changes and tries to adjust oneself to them without losing the finest features of the existing culture, the inevitable problems will be less disrupting to mental health.

Needless to say, the Ramon Magsaysay Award given to me this year is a good expression of its objective, which is to promote happiness and peace the world over. It is my firm belief that this Award is stimulating the people in various ways to appreciate the fields of endeavor which contribute to world peace and contentment.

 BIOGRAPHY

PHON SANGSINGKEO was born on April 24, 1907 at Khemarat, Ubolrajthani, Siam (renamed Thailand in 1932). His father, Sang Panich, was granted the title “Khun” by King Vajiravudh in recognition of the respect in which he was held in the town as an honest, hardworking businessman and descendant of a noble family.

The sixth of 11 children, PHON showed in elementary school an aptitude for study that prompted his family to send him to live with the high-ranking priest of a temple in Bangkok so he could take his secondary schooling at Suan Kularb College. Among his brothers and sisters, he was one of three to graduate from a university. Pursuing the goal of his early childhood, he prepared to be a doctor.

In 1929, with his newly earned degree of Bachelor of Medicine from Chulalongkorn University School of Medicine in Bangkok, PHON entered government service in the Department of Health. Posted from 1930 to 1934 as Provincial Medical Officer at Sakolnakorn in the northeast, he developed a particular interest in the mentally ill. This interest became a career with his assignment, in 1935, as Assistant Director of the one mental hospital in Thailand—at Thonburi near Bangkok.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)