WATCH: San Mig Light Mahaba-habang Usapan: It’s okay to not be okay
MANILA, Philippines – In 2018, the landmark Mental Health Law was signed, making the Philippines one of the last countries to have one.
Through this law, the rights and welfare of persons with mental health needs and mental health professionals are secure, mental health services are provided down to the barangays; psychiatric, psychosocial, and neurologic services are integrated in regional, provincial, and tertiary hospitals; mental healthcare facilities are improved; and mental health education in schools and workplaces are promoted.
This is a huge step for mental health care.
“Tanglaw Mental Health is actually experiencing the impact of this [law.] We got invited by the Department of Health (DOH) as well as the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) for a meeting,” said Anne Silva, CEO and Founder of Tanglaw Mental Health, a social enterprise that aims to provide mental health education, during another episode of the San Mig Light Mahaba-habang Usapan series last October 10. The roundtable discussion was moderated by Dr. Ronald del Castillo, clinical psychologist and associate professor at UP Manila College of Public Health.
“Now they’re really trying to implement the programs that we need for mental health. So, there’s suicide prevention, there’s crisis hotline, they’re already doing that.”
Silva said that even big, multinational companies are reaching out to them to conduct talks and workshops on mental health for employees.
However, there’s no denying that the stigma is still there.
Understanding mental health in schools, offices, and in the home
Not all schools or companies have embedded mental health programs into their regular policies. It’s not yet acceptable to go on sick leave if a person wants to take a “mental health break” except for some highly progressive companies.
“We have to take into consideration that awareness is just that – knowing about it but what I think is lacking is the understanding of it,” said Dr. Jhun Robbie Galicia, licensed psychiatrist.
Even within families, it’s difficult to admit if you’re suffering from mental health problems. These feelings are usually reduced to just being ‘sad’ and something that can be overcome if you do something that makes you happy.
“There’s a gap in understanding with the older generations towards mental kasi hindi nila maintindihan [because they don't understand],” said Miss International 2016 and mental health advocate Kylie Versoza.
“And with my organization, [Mental Health Matters], a lot of them go to us, for example, parents, they want to learn more about their child. Kung ano ba talaga ‘yung depression [what depression really is], what are they going through. How can I help them.”
For many people, the concept of mental health automatically means mental illnesses or disorders. When in fact, it’s pretty much like our physical health – we have to take care of it even before it needs fixing. Why is this?
“I think in general health, the way that we’ve always been thought about health has always been in a treatment paradigm. The way that we look at health is there should always be something wrong to fix,” said Gisa Paredes, founder of Healing Minds PH, an online resource where you can find psychologists and psychiatrists if you need to seek help, and a licensed psychologist.
But according to Dr. del Castillo, mental health is way more than that. It’s about feeling sad, about feeling happy, about being well, and having positive relationships.
“By definition, mental health is a state of well-being wherein an individual will be able to see their potential, see their own abilities to cope with stress, to find resilience in extreme life experiences, to work productively, and of course to contribute to the community,” said Dr. Galicia.
Stressing the importance of self-care
So, how do we take care of our mental health before it’s too late?
“I take a lot of ‘me time’ for myself. I appreciate my alone time, just with myself, just with my thoughts. This is the only time I get to reflect on everything I’ve done, everything I want to do, and everything I could’ve done,” said Verzosa.
Having this alone time is something that Dr. Galicia would often prescribe to his patients. He would tell them to take some time off, to have some time away from work and sometimes without any connection to the outside world. Take time off your phone, the internet, and social media.
But sometimes when you find yourself in the middle of a negative experience, when “me time” activities such as going to the spa or journaling seem to far off, the panelists agree that the most helpful thing you can do is to challenge your thoughts through self-talk.
“I think the important thing about that is when we try to rephrase those things to something that is positive or something that will actually be helpful to you, then you are taking care of your mental health, your mind,” said Silva.
However, when things are getting too serious, the best option is to always seek professional help. So, how do you know you need to take more than just a mental health break?
“We need to differentiate mental illness versus normal emotions. It’s ok to be sad. Sadness, normal ‘yun but if that sadness becomes too extreme, it lasts for two weeks or more and nakakasira na siya sa functioning ng isang individual and paano siya maki-relate with other people [a person can no longer function and relate with other people], that’s a sign. Another will be nawawalan ng gana [losing interest] about things we enjoy. There’s the lack of sleep, poor appetite,” said Dr. Galicia.
Dr. Galicia also notes that it’s not always like that, though. A person may not show these signs of depression but they could be depressed. That’s why it’s important to be sensitive to people who may or may not be experiencing mental disorders.
Making mental health mainstream
For the ordinary Pinoy, mental health conditions like depression are still only “for the rich”. Members of the middle and lower classes are seen as people who “don’t and shouldn’t have the time” to feel depressed because they have mouths to feed. When in fact, mental health problems know no income bracket.
“The main issue that they have is [the lack of] access. A lot of people message us on Tanglaw asking us: paano po kami hihingi ng tulong kung wala kaming pera? Wala po akong pang-therapy? [how do we ask for help if we don't have money to pay for therapy]” said Silva.
Silva also shared how even before the Mental Health Law, the Department of Social Welfare and Development has been providing psychological first aid to communities in times of crises like typhoons.
“[Dapat] i-level natin ‘yung knowledge and expertise on mental health or we tailor it to their culture. That way, mas maiintindihan nila. Mas mawawala ‘yung stigma na ‘yung mental health kaya lang ma-afford ng mayayaman.”
The bottomline is, whichever income level you belong to, taking care of your mental health is universal. And dealing with persons with mental health problems requires empathy, sensitivity, and just being there to listen, and if needed, help them seek professional help.
To watch more episodes of San Mig Light's #MahabahabangUsapan series, visit https://www.facebook.com/sanmiglightph/. Join the conversation by sharing your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. – Rappler.com