Why these 3 PH personalities are mental health advocates

Alexa Villano
Why these 3 PH personalities are mental health advocates
Antoinette Taus, Jerika Ejercito, and Kylie Verzosa share about their struggles with mental health

MANILA, Philippines – As Senator Risa Hontiveros pushes for the Mental Health Act of 2017 to be turned into a law, she has the support of 3 personalities: actress Antoinette Taus, Be Healed Foundation and Ilaw Foundation director Jerika Ejercito, and Miss International 2016 Kylie Verzosa. (READ: Why do Filipinos need a mental health law?)

On May 2, the Senate approved on its 3rd and final reading Senate Bill No 1354 or the Philippine Mental Health Law of 2017, which aims to give Filipinos affordable and accessible mental healthcare. The House of Representatives must now submit their own version of the bill and come to an agreement with the senate in order for it to become a law.   (READ: Senate approves mental health bill on final reading)

Left to right: Antoinette Taus, Be Healed Foundation’s Jerika Ejercito, senator Risa Hontiveros, Miss International 2016 Kylie Verzosa and Student Council Alliance of the Philippines’ Khryzza Pinzon. Photo courtesy of  Office of Senator Risa Hontiveros

Also pushing for the law are Antoinette, Kylie, and Jerika, who each have experienced mental illneses and have involved themselves in ensuring the bill’s passage. Below are their stories. (WATCH: Stars appeal for passage of a mental health law)

Kylie Verzosa



Kylie shared at a press conference for the bill on May 3 that prior to winning the Miss International title in October 2016, she was diagnosed with clinical depression. 

“My story started 3 years ago, when I was diagnosed as clinically depressed. I was very fortunate enough that I had the right support group and support system, and just enough means to get through my depression. But it wasn’t easy,” Kylie shared.

“I did not know what I was going through and not everyone understood it. After finding the right help and getting the right treatment, after trying several, I was able to treat myself naturally without medication.”


Congratulations Kylie! We are proud of you. #KylieVerzosa #Missinternational2016 #Worldhealthorganization

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Kylie said that no one treated her depression as a sickness. During the time she was preparing for the Binibining Pilipinas competition, she and the ladies were asked to share about the advocacies they wanted to pursue. When she mentioned mental health, not everyone was keen on it.

“I was discouraged to talk about it because it was sad and not a happy advocacy,” she said. “Even after winning Miss International, I wanted to talk about mental health. I got comments saying I shouldn’t talk about it because it wasn’t a popular one, and that I should focus on women and children instead. But I still decided to talk about it because it was something I felt strongly about. I went through so much pain and I’m a proud survivor of this. And that those who fought and suffered should not be left in pain.”

For Kylie, the passage of the bill will eliminate the stigma of the condition and give those who suffer from the condition a chance, without any prejudice.

“This bill brings us one step closer to realizing a national policy that will respond to Filipino’s mental health needs and erase our record as one of the few countries left in Asia without a mental health measure,” she said.

She also said that it helped when her family, especially her father, introduced her to a couple of psychiatrists. “As a depressed person, sometimes you go through the phases of denial. So parang sa (with a) psychiatrist, you don’t know what to do in there. So I’ve been through a lot of psychiatrists. I also joined a foundation called the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation, who introduced me to a few doctors also and these are the people who helped me.”   

Jerika Ejercito

Jerika Ejercito. Photo by Alexa Villano/Rappler

For Jerika, the daughter of former president and current Manila mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada with actress Laarni Enriquez, the pressure of being in a family involved in politics and entertainment was one of the factors that brought about her depression. 

“I think it really did [play a vital role]. I think the major triggering factor was the 2002 impeachment of my father. I was 16 years old, so I was very, very vulnerable to so many things – bullying and depression. So you know, going through that at such a young age and seeing my father persecuted day and night, it was a very difficult time for our family,” she said.

In order for her to heal, Jerika was sent to London, where she stayed for a number of years. Her brothers followed to get away, but as she was the eldest among her siblings, Jerika said she was the most affected by what happened.

“I think I got the most hits because I understood what was happening. I was in EDSA 3, I was very active in talking on the streets,” she said. 

Although she sought help, Jerika credits her son with Bernard Palanca, Isaiah, for helping her heal: “My saving grace was my son, to be honest with you. Having him gave me a sense of purpose, that I’m not in this world alone anymore. I’m responsible for another life. And of course, renewing my faith as a Christian,” she said.

Jerika is also glad to have her fiancé Miquel Aguilar Garcia, who has been supporting her with the projects she’s involved in. Aside from the Be Healed Foundation, which she put up for those suffering from mental health problems, she also heads the Initiatives for Life and Actions of Women (ILAW), a Manila program created by her father. 




He has been my rock. He’s been very supportive in all of my endeavors. I am not just an advocate [of mental health], but also a mother. So balancing the two, he has been a great help in balancing everything in my life, so I am able to be more productive, to be a mother at the same time because of his help,” she said. 

Antoinette Taus


Thank you so much once again to @BridalBoutiquePH for making me another beautiful suit for this very special day. We all wore green in honor and support of the color of #MentalHealth.  . #MHActNow #MentalHealthPH #LetsTalkPH . Much love to the BB crew for using fabric made from 100% pure cotton and silk, using zero synthetic fibers.  #BridalBoutiquePH #sustainability _________________________ @WHO | @WHOphilippines #LetsTalk #WorldHealthDay2017 #depression . LEARN MORE: http://www.WHO.int/depression/en _________________________  @TheGlobalGoals | #GlobalGoals #Goal3 #GoodHealthAndWellBeing . #AntoinettexWHO | #AntoinettexGlobalGoals _________________________ #health #MentalHealth #health #globalhealth #publichealth #happiness #peace #anxiety #suicide #alone #sadness #CORAcares #CORA #PHILIPPINES #TheGlobalGoals #UnitedNations #SDGs #SustainableDevelopmentGoals

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For Antoinette, the issue of mental health has always been something she wanted to talk about. Depression can hit anyone at any age, she said, and she experienced it in her early 20s.

“My journey through depression began at the age of 23. And kadalasan, hindi na pala natin alam na pinagdadaanan natin ito (And most of the time, we don’t know that we’re going through it already). I went through 3 years of denial, showed no sign of pain, no suffering, no sadness. It was me wanting to be strong. In my mind, I thought I was being weak, by giving into it. That was immediately followed by the opposite. I withdrew from my friends, from my family. I lost inspiration. And I was completely unaware that I was completely going through depression at that time,” she said.

“I thought it was just something that everybody normally goes through and it would go away on its own. So pinamalaking problema talaga dito is awareness talaga. Kadalasan, hindi alam ng mga ating kababayan na pinagdadaanan natin ito (So the biggest problem here, really, is awareness. Most of the time, our countrymen don’t know that we all go through it).

“And at the same time, that’s how the recovery started for me. When I finally found out what was happening and na accept ko siya, at tinanggap ko na what was going through my mind, I opened up to my family. I shared with them what I was going through. And there was no pressure, no judgement. It was all love.”


Grateful and honored to be present for the 3rd and final reading of the Philippine Mental Health Bill. Truly a special day for the Filipino people . #MHActNow #LetsTalkPH #MentalHealthMatters #MentalHealthPH _________________________ This year, the @WHO is putting the spotlight on #DEPRESSION. Together, let's talk about depression and about promoting understanding, awareness, kindness, compassion and courage. It is time to overcome the stigmas surrounding it. We can beat depression, and we will. #WorldHealthDay _________________________  @WHO | @WHOphilippines #LetsTalk #WorldHealthDay2017 . LEARN MORE: http://www.WHO.int/depression/en __________________________ WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW . Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. . In humanitarian emergencies one in five people are affected by depression and anxiety. . Depression and anxiety lead to a global economic loss of 1trillion US dollars per year. . On average only 3% of government health budgets is invested in Mental Health. . At worst depression can lead to suicide. . Depression can be prevented and treated at very low cost. . Treatment usually involves talking therapy, anti depressant medication or both. Seek professional help. . If you think you have depression talk to someone you trust. _________________________  @TheGlobalGoals | #GlobalGoals #Goal3 #GoodHealthAndWellBeing . #AntoinettexWHO | #AntoinettexGlobalGoals _________________________ #health #MentalHealth #health #globalhealth #publichealth #happiness #peace #anxiety #suicide #alone #sadness #CORAcares #CORA #PHILIPPINES #TheGlobalGoals #UnitedNations #SDGs #SustainableDevelopmentGoals

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Depression can be treated and prevented, said Antoinette. “All we need to do is open up and talk. There’s no reason to be afraid. There’s no reason to be ashamed. Just the same way when we go to the doctor when we’re sick, when we feel like we have a fever.”

She added: “It’s truly the time to beat the stigma surrounding depression and other forms of mental illness. No one should have to go through depression alone… and it is now time, it’s up to us to make sure that our countrymen get the help they need.”

According to a release, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2012 that there were 2,558 cases of Filipinos committing suicide, with around 7 suicide cases a day. According to the Department of Health (DOH), one in 5 Filipino adults have some form of mental illness.

Senators Vicente “Tito” Sotto, Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillanes, Bam Aquino, Sonny Angara, and Joel Villanueva co-authored the Philippine Mental Health Law of 2017 with Risa Hontiveros. – Rappler.com

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Alexa Villano

Alexa is one of Rappler's Lifestyle and Entertainment reporters, covering local entertainment news to a wide range of topics from beauty pageants to reality shows.