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Mental Health Matters

According to the Department of Health (DOH), 1 out of 5 Filipino adult suffers from a mental health disorder. The three most common ones in the country, according to the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH), include specific phobia, alcohol abuse and depression.

Life coach and psychiatrist Dr. Randy Dellosa says that although sadness is normal and temporary, depression affects a person for a longer period of time and is associated with nine major symptoms:

– Sadness, irritability or anxiety
– Loss of motivation or enjoyment
– Changes in sleep pattern
– Changes in appetite
– Changes self-image or self-confidence
– Poor focus
– Overthinking
– Low energy
– Thoughts of death or suicide

Different factors, such as genetics, contribute to psychiatric disorders. If both parents have disorders, the chance for their offspring to be diagnosed with a disorder is higher. Another factor is stress, whether mental, emotional, physical or a combination of all.

Hormones can also be the culprit, leading to an imbalance in brain chemicals. Other factors include drugs, alcohol and lack of sleep. In other cases, situational triggers like death in the family, calamity, heartbreak or tragedy can also affect a person’s mind, body and emotions.

Dellosa explained that people tend to be suicidal because of recurring symptoms. Because they don’t know where or how to get help, they feel so hopeless that they want to end their suffering.

Cuts and Scars

Ven, a 27-year-old public school teacher, has been suffering from depression. She isn’t exactly sure when it started, but she thinks it might have been triggered by her parents’ separation when she was 8 years old. Her condition got worse when her grandmother died last year.

“Nitong last year lang, nagkasakit ‘yung lola ko. Sobrang daming gastos tapos tulung-tulong kami sa pagtustos ng gamut. Nagkautang-utang din ako. Tapos ‘yun, parang biglang bumagsak ‘yung buhay ko nung namatay ‘yung lola ko.

Nawala ako sa pagsisimba, talagang kwinestyon ko si Lord kung bakit…ginawa ko naman lahat, nagsimba ako…pero bakit kinuha, parang wala nakong kakampi.” (My grandmother died last year. I was buried in debt because of her medications. I did my best to help her. I went to church and prayed incessantly but God still took her life. I questioned Him. I felt alone and devastated.)

“Yung one time na naglaslas ako, pinakauna sa school. Kasi sobrang stressed na stressed na ako. Lahat kasi ng trabaho parang sa akin inaasa. Kinabukasan, may tinuruan ako na bata, para sa isang contest sa buong probinsya so mas mataas na level. Natalo ‘yung bata. Naglaslas na naman ako sa bahay. Ano na naman ba nagawa ko, mali na naman ba, kasi parang ‘yung expectations nila mula pagkabata ko na laging nananalo, laging nasa taas kaso wala, parang bigla akong bumulusok.” (My first suicide attempt happened in school where I started to cut my wrist because of too much stress at work. The next day, I was feeling extremely down because my student didn’t win the contest. As a teacher, I was blaming myself. I felt I wasn’t good enough.)

Because of depression, Ven has also experienced auditory hallucinations. She heard loud voices saying, “Wala kang kwenta. Wala ka nang silbi!” (You are worthless! You’re good for nothing!) Fear, loneliness and low self-esteem gnawed at her until she committed her fifth suicide attempt. Up to now, the scars are still visible on her wrist.

Easing the pain

To help a person with a psychiatric disorder, here are ways to ease the burden they are carrying:

– Educate yourself by getting involved in different mental health campaigns in the community or institutions

– Lend a listening ear so they can release their emotions and express their selves without judgment. This gives them relief and helps them cope with bad memories.

– If their condition is getting worse, accompany them to a psychiatrist for medication and psychotherapy.

– Encourage them to undergo wellness therapy wherein they can engage in activities that make them feel good mentally, emotionally and physically. Examples are exercise, good food or art therapy like dance, visual arts or singing, which serve as outlets for self-expression.

After Ven’s fifth suicidal attempt, her family finally learned about her condition. Her relatives are now helping her to cope with her illness. Her faith is also redeemed, and Ven now regularly attends mass.

Paiting and writing have also become her outlets. She has penned poetry also published on her blog site. Recently, she was also invited to perform her poems in a benefit gig that aims to promote awareness on mental health through art.

Mental Health in the Philippines

NCMH Chief Bernardino Vicente said mental health is not a priority in the country and is poorly funded. “There is also a lot of stigma attached to mental illness, and the stigma does not end with the patient. Even the mental health providers or psychiatrists are also stigmatized. You’ll often hear, anong trabaho mo, psychiatrist, hindi ka ba nahahawa, (As a psychiatrist, don’t you get infected with mental illnesses?) such remarks like that.”

There are only a few doctors who would want to take up psychiatry. If you compare it to our neighboring countries, like for example Japan, they have about 16, 000 psychiatrists nationwide. In the Philippines, we only have about 600 and what’s bad about it is the inequitable distribution. Most of them are here [in Metro Manila]. Pumunta ka sa probinsya, halos wala kang makikita (There are almost none in the provinces),” he added.

Recently, majority of the House of Representatives members approved the third and final reading of the Comprehensive Mental Health Act or House Bill 6452. It will be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte, hopefully before the year ends.

The bill gives emphasis on the responsibilities of all concerned government agencies and mental health providers, as well as fund allocation and services that should be accessible to all Filipinos, including those in the rural areas.

Watch our special documentary on Mental Health