By Pebbles Mendoza
The enforced quarantine that we have all endured is bound to effect many of us who already suffered from anxiety and bouts of depression.
I for one have already experienced a rise in my anxiety levels. I don’t take medication any longer as I kicked the need for it several years ago. I had become too reliant upon it. But I definitely feel the need to see me doctor again as soon as they have time to see me.
Three or four years ago I would have been terrified to admit in public that I was a sufferer. I was literally afraid and embarrassed. Let’s be honest, what do people usually think of when they hear the phrase “mental health”? The general perception can perhaps be summed up by the saying may toyo (sa utak or ulo). Literally translated, this means that someone has soy sauce on their brain or head, but what it really means is that they have a screw loose.
This stigma is one reason why mental health issues are hard to address. Add to it the many misconceptions surrounding mental health. Exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and depression, for instance, may be dismissed as merely nag-iinarte (acting up), nagiging ulyanin (becoming senile), or sinasapian (possessed by evil spirits).
The good news is that things are moving ahead on the national front. In 2018, the landmark Mental Health Act was signed into law, recognizing that every Filipino has a basic right to mental health care. Republic Act 11036 establishes a national mental health policy in order to improve service delivery, and promote and protect the rights of people utilizing psychiatric, neurological, and psychosocial health services.
At a microlevel, a lot can be done within our personal networks to promote and protect mental wellness, and the place to start is with yourself. Everyone goes through valleys in life; it’s part of the human experience. How do you cope when you’re stuck in that dark place?
Here are some valuable tips from advocates:
At the workplace. If you’re considering a job offer, learn as much as possible about the company culture and your immediate superior. Those two factors have been found to be some of the greatest sources of happiness or stress at work. If you’re stressed out at your current job, acknowledge your feelings and don’t just dismiss them as nag-iinarte. They are valid. If possible, have a chat with your boss if you need advice on how to make your workload more manageable.
While stewing in traffic. Traffic everywhere is a real pain these days. Dr. Robert Buenaventura, board secretary of the Philippine Psychiatric Association, suggests to turn on your radio, or listen to engaging podcasts or soothing music on your phone. Or if you derive comfort from prayers, give your rosary beads a good workout. The challenge is to find a specific activity that can distract you a little, but not too much. Your primary focus must always be on the road!
When acutely distressed. #MentalHealthPH advocate Riyan Portuguez advises finding out one’s strengths. “Your strength is your capital,” she says. “It will help you figure out what adaptive coping mechanisms you can employ.” She also encourages regular self-care and seeking the right social support to lean on. Dr. Buenaventura, meanwhile, particularly emphasizes the importance of self-awareness. “If you are self-aware, then you know if you’re already in the process of being stressed.” He says that having a great degree of self-knowledge allows you to discern when you’re about to reach boiling point; it equips you with the specific strategies you need to cope with stress effectively. “Having in place strategies prevents your body and mind’s response to it from worsening. Stress management looks different for everyone. What works for others may not work for you. That’s why self-awareness is key.”
We can also erase the stigma collectively as a society by being more mindful of our language. Not carelessly using vernacular words for “crazy” like baliw is a good start. Phrasing questions differently helps too. Instead of asking questions like, “Is there something wrong with you?” ask, “Is there something wrong?” Resist the temptation to mention mental health conditions as punchlines for jokes, especially if you’re a celebrity. If you’re in the media, report suicides responsibly by focusing on the good things the victim did in his or her life.
A Better Tomorrow
According to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization, 3.3 million Filipinos suffer from depression and another 3.1 million have anxiety disorders. The organization also says that 2,558 suicides were reported in 2012. If our whole community works towards driving change in how we talk about mental health, it can be hoped that these numbers will fall drastically.
Hope is there for those who suffer from mental health concerns.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, help is available. Call the free and confidential hotlines of the National Center for Mental Health: 0917 899 USAP (8727) and 989 USAP (8727).