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Mental Health: The Elephant in the Room

Words by: Mariniell Clarete

The circulation of Joey De Leon’s remark on mental health has provoked many citizens to amplify the obsolete social stigma that looms over the issue. In a noontime show called Eat Bulaga, De Leon commented on one of the contestants’ statement about her mother being diagnosed with depression. In response, De Leon desensitized the issue by claiming that depression is a made-up illness by those who suffer from it. “Yung depression gawa-gawa lang ng mga tao yan. Gawa sila sa sarili nila (depression is just made up),” De Leon said. He furthered that the condition is contingent on the social status, “Nagpapasosyal lang. Pag mayaman depressed, pag mahirap wala wala ka ng pag-asa sa buhay. Ganun ‘yun e” . On the other hand,  Maine Mendoza stood up against treating mental illnesses as a joke. “Hindi biro yun ha, yung depression (depression is not a joke),” Mendoza said.

The reality of discriminatory practices toward mental health challenges, especially in the older counterpart, shun those who are suffering into shame and secrecy. According to the Department of Health, one in five Filipino adults has some form of mental illness but hardly any of the depressives seek help either because they are not aware of their condition or they purposefully bear the symptoms in private. Unfortunately, the horrifying outcomes of this regression is seen in the rise of suicide rates, most especially in the youth. It is also critical to note that this outdated prejudice towards mental health is usually more pervasive in the older generation making it even harder for the young  to seek support. The lack of sensitivity and misconception towards mental health warrants the urgency to shatter the stigma. In a country that rarely talks about mental health, many are silenced and left untreated; this all the more regresses the issue and worsens the individual’s mental well-being.

Before shattering the social stigma, let us first properly define what mental health refers to. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “mental health is the state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or own abilities, can cope with normal stresses in life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Contrary to general belief, mental health does not equal to mental illness. One can be mentally healthy his whole lifetime, but everyone will inevitably experience challenges with their mental well-being. This does not mean, however, that a person who feels unwell automatically implies that they are mentally ill. There are varying degrees of health; and it is possible to have poor mental health management without a mental illness. Being mentally healthy does not promise complete happiness and confidence because it’s about effectively handling and coping with stress despite problems.

With World Mental Health Day being celebrated this month of October, it is important not only to educate the public about the matter, but to also confront some uncomfortable but necessary questions relating to human behavior. So, let’s talk about it!

In the past 20 years, the rate of youth depression in the country has increased yet there is still a considerable lack of public health awareness and policy infrastructure to address the issue. There has been an increase in youth suicide and according to the National Poison Management and Control Center (NPMCC) of the Philippine General Hospital, 46% of the total suicide cases recorded since 2010 are from the youth which ranges from 10 to 35 years old. Many factors contribute to the imbalance of the brain that triggers mental disorders – the environment being the most influential. Based on WHO’s study, sudden social change, stressful working environment and detrimental lifestyle, are just some of those external factors. In the university setting, anxiety, depression, panic and stress disorder are the most common mental health conditions students face. With midterms week on the horizon and requirements piling up one after the other, it does get difficult to cope with demands that exceed our ability. Even when we are not in school, stress follows us home. At times, we may even feel helpless, alone and drained. Too often these emotions are overlooked or hidden.

Everyone has a different story to tell. Although it may be difficult to understand what others are going through, especially when they seem fine on the surface, it is important to be aware of symptoms that warrant attention. In the same time, let us not forget to also improve our own mental health to build resilience in facing life’s challenges. It is reassuring to be reminded that in UA&P, there are many opportunities to feel connected. As simple as making time to pray in the chapel during breaks, reconnecting with your mentor, or joining any school organization will tremendously boost your mental health. Strengthening your mental health is just as important as building your physical health; hence we should consciously and continually exercise it.

As mentioned, external conditions largely impact the emotional well-being of man. One of the first steps to shattering this stigma is by actually talking about it and clarifying the terms. It follows that conversation should start where help is easily within reach – in family, friends and peers. Know that there is no shame in seeking help from others, especially when the level of stress seems unbearable and extreme. In fact, it is absolutely natural for man to relate to other humans since it is what makes of us as social beings. A deeper level of intentional relationship is expounded by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics in which he observes that “the perfect form of friendship is that between the good, and those who resemble each other in virtue. For these friends wish each alike the other’s good in respect of their goodness, and they are good in themselves; but it is those who wish the good of their friends for their friends’ sake who are friends in the fullest sense…” This is exactly how we should respond to everyone around us – friend or not. Cultivating a society wherein man is motivated to pursue the good of the other will create better and more meaningful relationships that are good for our emotional well-being. It is healthy to talk about mental health, and it is even more effective when we practice it in the way we relate to others. Perhaps this is one simple way we can improve the wellbeing of not just an individual, but for society as a whole.

Mental health is everyone’s concern.

Stop the stigma and show your support.

If you need someone to talk to, feel free to contact UA&P guidance (637-0912 loc. 365/300)