In 2017, a Filipino TV host made a remark saying that depression is “made up by people”, seemingly dismissing the explanation given by the winner of the segment, whose mother was diagnosed with the illness. He then apologized afterwards after being called out and informed of the serious matter.
The sad reality is that this situation is only the tip of the iceberg. Even today, prejudice against people with mental health struggles remains in our society.
Earlier that year, a group of people in the medical field and a senator started a conversation in Twitter with the topic “The Youth and Mental Health” under the tag #HealthXPh. It revealed that on the daily, Filipinos who suffer mental disorders receive words of invalidation or even experience discrimination by strangers and peers alike. Some of the users shared how expressing their mental struggles/illnesses was usually referred to as ungrateful, attention-seeking, and the infamous “pag-iinarte”.
“Nag-iinarte ka lang. / Dahil lang do’n? / Mukhang ayos ka naman ah. / Naaaning ka lang. / Abno. / Taas nga ng grades mo sus. / Pauso mo. / Ako rin naman nalulungkot, pero hindi ako nagreklamo.” — Imagine hearing these statements from a person you trusted with your emotions. Aside from the shock, pain, and disappointment, the feeling of being unseen leaves a dent on the person’s thoughts. Worse, these words can come from the people in your closest social circle. A participant from a study disclosed how her friends reacted when she opened up to her friends about her mental disorder: “[…] They all had the same reaction. They laughed at me and didn’t take it seriously.” (Interview 71, PMHP, Female; as cited in Tanaka, et al., 2018)
Narratives from people with mental health problems (PMPH) or from their family in the mentioned study showed mostly negative perception on PMPH and mental health illnesses in general, which is seen in their familial and social relationships (i.e., expectations and underestimation of what they are capable of). These lead to acts of discrimination such as name-calling (“Baliw!”) and refusal to hire a PMPH.
Due to this, several find it hard to seek help from other people. The stigmatization from the outside slowly invades the inside. Internalized stigma tends to make people take in and believe what others say, and question themselves.
As a result, we tend to share thoughts only with people who experience the similar struggle with us— those who we believe understand, the ones who will not make us doubt ourselves. We might even find more solace online rather than in-person interactions due to hesitations in expressing self, afraid of the possible reactions.
On a positive note, it is noteworthy that many Filipinos, especially the youth, take a step forward and amplify the calls to diminish these occurrences in everyday life. During the height of the pandemic and continuing until now, organizations have been utilizing online platforms to spread awareness on the topic of mental health. This includes posting of publication materials, articles, mental health support and resources; and conducting MH webinars.
Legislations and policies such as the Republic Act 11036 or the Philippine Mental Health Act of 2017 have been instituted to address these issues as well. With the voice and further actions of people, hopefully we progress as a nation and as individuals when it comes to dealing with and understanding mental health.
Interaksyon. (2017, October 6). Depression isn’t ‘gawa-gawa lang’; Joey de Leon apologizes. Philstar. https://interaksyon.philstar.com/entertainment/2017/10/06/101962/depression-isnt-gawa-gawa-lang-joey-de-leon-apologizes/
Mental health: A youth perspective. (2017, January 1). The Endocrine Witch. https://www.endocrine-witch.net/2017/01/31/mental-health-a-youth-perspective/
Santos, J. (2019, November 7). Anu-ano ang mga maling akala tungkol sa mental health. GMA News. https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/balitambayan/talakayan/714584/anu-ano-ang-mga-maling-akala-tungkol-sa-mental-health/story/
Tanaka, C., Tuliao, M. T., Tanaka, E., Yamashita, T., & Matsuo, H. (2018). A qualitative study on the stigma experienced by people with mental health problems and epilepsy in the Philippines. BMC Psychiatry, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1902-9