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Opinion

Mind matters

Mental health literacy matters—and in some occasions, it may even save one’s life, or that of others.

Something was different. I could barely hold conversations, much less listen to my teachers in class. And what I was thinking about weren’t even important things. They were just things—a lot of them. Things so trivial I couldn’t even remember them if you asked me what my teacher was talking about or even what the subject was.

I lost interest in the kalimba I used to play for hours on end. I found it tiresome to engage in any kind of social interaction when I was a known extrovert. I couldn’t even be spirited enough to rant about the latest test I had flunked for the nth time. I couldn’t find it in me to care.

Some things were different and I was conscious enough to recognize them as symptoms of depression. So, I took a preliminary test I found from a quick Google search. While these tests are inconclusive, they do provide good insight into one’s general well-being. My test result said that I was particularly unwell, so I consulted a psychiatrist and eventually found that I had moderate depression. Moderate, yet already so debilitating.

I’m taking antidepressants now and functioning a lot better than I was a few months ago. The process was relatively straightforward for me—some might even say it was too simple. And, to a certain extent, that is true. Having been a mental health advocate for years now, the symptoms of depression have grown familiar to me. I knew what to look out for and when the time came, I used that knowledge to get the help I needed. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many of my peers.

As a peer supporter, I’ve come to know many stories of those who gradually felt more detached, uninterested, demotivated, and generally different from their usual selves. And they would end up confused, not knowing the cause behind such a change. When this isn’t addressed, especially for an extended period of time, symptoms are often exacerbated and their conditions worsen. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that each time these symptoms are present, it’s immediately depression. But more often than not, these symptoms do require medical attention. This is why mental health literacy is critical—especially in these times.

Over the pandemic, most students have brushed off their mental health issues because they “only” came as a result of the stress from online learning, health scares, and other pandemic-related stressors. However, the “normalcy” of the pandemic should not undermine one’s circumstances. Mental health issues are serious issues, regardless of what causes them. They do not go away overnight.

Meanwhile, some are also afraid to admit that they need help and even beat themselves up for the way they are feeling, only compounding their already ill thoughts. Despite the numerous mental health campaigns and webinars that are available—sometimes even required for students to attend—many still forget that depression is a disease, not a choice.

Yet, we cannot blame them. Despite the passage of the Mental Health Act in the country, it’s still hard to beat a stigma that has been fostered for decades. It’s especially harder for those who do not have access to mental health education or those who don’t have the resources to accommodate these needs. In recognizing the mental health crisis in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) issued a press release in November last year, which said that they are taking “actionable steps” guided by the country’s Mental Health Strategic Plan 2019-2023 and the World Health Organizations’ Mental Health Investment Case toward developing a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. The Mental Health Strategic Plan 2019-2023 includes policies for the integration of mental health education into the basic, higher, and even vocational education systems. However, things will not change overnight, and we have yet to see if DOH will execute these plans more efficiently and effectively than they handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, if you’re one of those who do have access to mental health education, I encourage you to make the most out of that privilege and equip yourself with all the important information that could not only save your life, but others’ as well. Good mental health literacy can help you spot the signs early on just as I did so that, hopefully, treatment could be much simpler. 

If you’re not feeling normal, don’t let other people downplay your emotions or interpret them for you. Most importantly, don’t downplay your emotions yourself. Seek professional help and allow yourself to be treated before the last thread snaps.

You are not alone. Help is available.

National Center for Mental Health:
1553 (Luzon-wide landline toll-free)
0966 351 4518;  0917 899 8727 (Globe/TM)
0908 639 2672 (Smart/TNT)

Telemental Health Booking Form:
bit.ly/mhusaptayo

DOH Regional Helplines:
bit.ly/DOHhelplines

Hopeline PH by the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation:
0917 558 4673 (Globe)
0918 873 4673 (Smart)
2919 (toll-free number for all GLOBE and TM subscribers)

Crisis Line by In Touch Community Services Free & Anonymous 24/7 Crisis Hotline:
8893-7603
0917 800 1123 0922 893 8944

By Emmanuelle Castaneda

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