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Making Sense of the Silence

By Alexa H. BacayJuly 30, 2017

The struggle is real among clinically depressed individuals
 
IF YOU GOOGLE the word “Filipinos” in the search engine’s images section, a page full of smiling, happy people will greet you on your screen. This is not surprising really, as we are known to be one of the happiest people in the world—regardless of the circumstance we might find ourselves in. Floods, earthquakes, even war, you will find a Filipino with a smile making the best of whatever situation he is in. This is probably why most of us disregard someone when they say they feel depressed, thinking that it is all just “pag-iinarte” (an act or melodrama) and they should man up and get over it.
 
This is where the problem lies. The fact that we are not properly informed of the increasing need to take care of our mental health, we ourselves might end up battling demons of our own one day. Worse, we may fail to hear or recognize a loved one’s cry for help until it is too late.
 
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in five people suffer from mental health problems worldwide. In the Philippines, most health insurance companies don’t even cover mental health-related issues contributing to the stigma that consulting a psychiatrist is equivalent to being crazy.
 
“Many Filipinos still believe in the fallacies and don’t want to spend money on psychiatry because they don’t believe that depression is a real disease. They think that sadness and depression are one and the same,” said Kate Alvarez, founder of SOS Philippines, a small private online group for Filipinos undergoing depression, bipolar disorder, suicide loss, and other mental health ailments.
 
“In reality, sadness is a normal feeling you experience when something goes wrong. Clinical depression, on the other hand, is a deeper but treatable ailment that lingers for weeks or months, whether the person’s problem is realistic or perceived.”
 
In May, the Senate approved the third and final reading of Senate Bill No. 1354 or the Mental Health Act of 2017. Under the bill, the government will put up basic mental health services at the community level as well as psychiatric, psychosocial and neurological services in all regional, provincial and tertiary hospitals. In addition, the bill seeks to integrate mental health promotion in both educational institutions and the workplace to address the stigma and discrimination that is usually associated with mental health.
 
Important public concern
“Since it is an integral part of health, it should also be seen as an important public concern. Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness. A high level of mental wellness enables a person to take good care of one’s self, family, and immediate circle,” said Vins Miranda, mental health advocate and founder of Buhay Movement, a project that aims to raise suicide awareness.
 
Vins herself suffered from prolonged periods of anxiety and sleep disturbance as well as depression. She relates an experience when she had a panic attack while on a plane when she was assigned to a seat separate from her brother. With a fear of flying to keep in check, Vins asked the flight attendant to transfer her to a different seat but her request fell on deaf ears.
 
“I completely lost my cool and I cried silently and uncontrollably before take-off. The passenger beside me was the one who asked for assistance from the other cabin crew,” Vins recalled the harrowing experience. “Others could have dismissed what happened as ‘pag-iinarte’ or just a common fear or phobia, but thankfully, both the passenger and the other attendant were sensitive enough to assist me.”
 
Meanwhile, Kate reveals that the worst thing you can do for a person who is clinically depressed is to interrogate, categorize and criticize. She advised earning the person’s trust, and finding a way to take them to a professional like a psychiatrist, therapist or counselor as soon as possible.
 
There are also online groups that people can reach out to like SOS Philippines, which she founded in 2012. Kate shares that the admins of the group are people who have lost someone to suicide, have loved ones suffering from depression, and/or are survivors of mental health ailments themselves.
 
 
Just being there
According to Rissa Coronel, founder of Silakbo PH, there are two main things that you can do for your loved one who is going through depression or mental illness:
 
First, just be there; and second, listen to them. In fact, Silakbo’s blog centers on “being there.” Together with her friends, she is raising awareness by receiving and posting educational resources on as many mental health issues as possible. Rissa makes it clear though that while she may respond to messages received via social media, she is just an advocate and not a mental health professional, and stresses the importance of receiving help from professionals who are certified to handle mental illness. But as a friend, a family member, or a loved one of a mentally ill person, there are also small ways one can help.
 
“Make an effort to understand what they are going through, and offer your company, or even a distraction because mentally ill people oftentimes just want to forget about their illness. Listen thoughtfully, not just for the sake of responding, but because you genuinely care for them,” Rissa shared.
 
“Be there for someone who’s having a tough time. Presensya mo lang, madalas sapat na (Sometimes, your presence is enough already). Avoid telling the person things like ‘It’s all in the mind,’ or ‘Just pray and it will all go away.’ Sometimes, genuine care can even be felt in shared silence. Learn how to listen well. And choose to listen well,” added Vins, whose Buhay Movement is dedicated to removing the stigma behind mental illness and suicide.
 
Vins further emphasizes that mental health is a public need, a human right, and our responsibility and that parents and educators should be aware of what children are watching on-screen. With shows like 13 Reasons Why, which seem to have only romanticized suicide rather than raise proper awareness on mental illness, we should all be vigilant, critical and discerning of what we are being fed on TV and on social media.
 
Indeed, we have much to learn about mental health, but for some who have friends, family, and loved ones going through their own personal darkness, remember to be patient and kind, but also remember to take care of yourself. As with flight safety videos telling passengers to put on the oxygen mask first before helping others, should the need arise, so should you when dealing with your loved one.
 
Nandito ako, Nandito ako para sa iyo,” is Buhay Movement’s battle cry, and in situations where one is drowning in inexplicable depression, knowing that someone is there for you, with no judgment, is enough to get you through another day. At least until such time when you have managed to chase all the demons and the voices away.
 
 
You may get in touch with SOS Philippines on Facebook, where admins will readily answer your questions about mental health. Kate has also provided a list of hotlines and resources for mental health in her blog.
 
Buhay Movement can also be found on Facebook, or you can send an email to buhay.alabph@gmail.com.
 
Silakbo PH can be reached through Facebook and email at silakbo.ph@gmail.com or through their blog at silakbo.wordpress.com.