As one of my professors in Psychology bid farewell to end the term, he reminded the class that mental health problems affect all of us and it should be okay to talk about it. As that thought slowly sunk in, what surprised me was the honesty he had and the guts it took to admit that he needed to seek help despite the preconceived notion that he is a professor and psychiatrist.
In most of the classes I took in Psychology, professors would often begin the class by saying that mental health knowledge and the issues that revolve around it are usually underestimated in our country. This can come from stereotypes and antiquated ideas that have stuck for a long time. When we encounter people who suffering from mental health illnesses, only then do we try to be aware and talk about it for a while, before moving on to whatever happens next.
Most people are not aware of the importance of mental health, so they tend to stigmatize, discriminate, and isolate those who struggle with mental health problems. Based on what my professor said, what fascinates me is how people are unaware that anyone is vulnerable to mental health problems. It is a common human experience to encounter challenges and conflicts every day, and even the smallest problems can become serious. Stress, anxiety, loneliness—these are some of the most common effects of problems that can lead to serious conditions. Despite this, only a few people attempt to seek help or simply talk about it since they are afraid to be judged, or to feel more isolated.
From the discussions I had with my fellow coursemates, I remember how we questioned why we are so affected by what our family and friends tell and advise us. This reminds me that in Social Psychology, we Filipinos have an interdependent and collectivist culture that makes us so dependent towards the people around us. It is in our culture that we value the relationships we have with family and friends, and we relate so much to each other that we actually seek validation or tend to validate our identity through relationships.
As I learn more about our culture as Filipinos, I sometimes find it ironic how we value relationships and relate to each other so much, yet are unable to have the honesty and confidence to talk about problems without thinking of being judged by our own family and friends. If we value the people around us so much, why is it so hard to talk about our personal issues? Why do we hesitate to talk about our fears, anxieties, and worries? Most importantly, why is there an underlying fear when we talk about our feelings to our loved ones and close friends?
By being so dependent and related to each other, we are afraid to act differently, to stand out from the norm. We spend too much time thinking about what other people have to say about ourselves, and I don’t think it’s worth it to keep on hiding from that. I keep on coming back to what my professor said about how we should talk about our problems honestly, especially to those care most about us—and that in turn, we should always be open to others’ thoughts and feelings without judgement.
We can’t blame people for their lack of knowledge in mental health, but we can’t also let people stigmatize and shame those who struggle with mental health problems. While mental health developments are being improved in our country, providing people with knowledge about mental health is still important—it can be as simple as small conversations with people that make us more aware of each other, especially ourselves. At the same time, surrounding ourselves with positive people is as important as being the one to surround others with positivity.
Voicing out our problems should not be something we should be ashamed of. It should rather make us feel safe that we all go through challenges, fears, and conflicts, even though we face it differently. Many of us may not be aware of this yet, but the reality is that many of us will experience mental health problems. We should keep in mind to talk, but not too much. Listen, but understand. Most of all, be honest, especially to those who care most about you.