Editor’s note: This article contains references to topics such as self-harm and loss of life. Reader discretion is advised.
Among the copious number of maladies one may possibly be diagnosed with lie the inconspicuous illnesses of the mind. Mental illnesses, as defined by the World Health Organization, are characterized by significant disturbances such as intense feelings of fear, anxiety, and despair to an individual’s thinking, emotional regulation, or behavior.
Though it is possible for anyone to be affected by mental illness regardless of gender, age, or background, it is often overlooked and dismissed—sometimes even disparaged—due to its internal and often classified “hidden” nature.
The great tempest
Mitch San Miguel (II, BS-PSYC) details that she had struggled with her mental health long before she was diagnosed with Bipolar II and Borderline Personality Disorder in December 2019. “It was a year for me na puro highs and lows, and it led to me attempting suicide. When I was in the hospital, I had to get…professional help, and nag-start ako mag-medications and therapy after that event,” she shares.
As a working student, San Miguel navigates her everyday workload through manic and depressive episodes. She adds, “‘Pag manic ka, you feel like God [in terms of productivity]. Pero once I’m depressed, kahit nakaupo ako sa work station ko, wala talaga akong magagawa.” Johannes Hong, a student from the University of the Philippines Diliman diagnosed with general anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, shares the same sentiments. “Sometimes, the anxiety gets too debilitating for me. There are some days recently that I can’t function the whole day [without] worrying about things,” Hong laments. These “unseen” illnesses are debilitating in nature, which may make even the smallest tasks difficult to manage.
(When you’re manic, you feel like God. But once I’m depressed, even if I’m seated at my work station, I really can’t do anything.)
Additionally, San Miguel divulges that prescribed medication and routine sessions with a therapist has helped her illnesses stay manageable on most days. But when one’s own mind is the same source of one’s own pain, solid support from loved ones can usually be the first true line of defense. Having people you trust understand your inner battles helps alleviate the pressure and maintains a front of mental peace. San Miguel, who experiences attachment issues due to her mental illness, appreciates the sensitivity and compassion shown by those close to her. “Whenever I would have a mood switch, I’d inform my friends, ‘oh, this is because of my mental illness’, and they’re understanding of it,“ she mentions in Filipino.
Those with mental illness face struggles that come in many shapes and forms, ranging from microaggressions from strangers to outright denial from loved ones. Societal stigma makes the burden much heavier to bear, especially for the youth. “When you experience depression, you’re usually at the puberty stage and just a minor,” San Miguel notes in Filipino. “It’s hard to reach out to your parents because they may not understand mental illness. They might say you’re just overreacting, or you just need to pray.”
The stigma surrounding mental illness is ultimately cemented into unyielding and inaccessible institutions in the Philippines. In 2021, mental health counseling in Metro Manila could cost up to P4,500 per session. These costs, though, aren’t always formally recognized by schools or workplaces. “A benefit of working in my company before [was my] full healthcare coverage,” Hong recalls. “[But] they didn’t cover…psychiatric consultations and medications. When in fact, mental health is health din naman.”
(When in fact, mental health is health too.)
Sometimes, even the systems put in place to reinforce mental health can fall short. It can be as simple as an unresponsive hotline, but San Miguel recounts the unpleasant experience of a friend who went to a free consultation for mental health and was criticized by the therapist for their problems as a working student. “It’s hard because if everyone around you won’t believe that there’s something wrong with you…it will make you question yourself,” she says regretfully.
Managing the heavy toll of having a mental illness, along with the challenges of daily life, is no easy feat. Taking measures such as reaching out and deciding to see a psychiatrist for prescriptions and therapy may ease the weight off one’s shoulders. “Yung mood disorder kasi pwede mo siyang ma-treat through medications,” San Miguel shares. “When I was in the hospital, I had to get help, professional help, and I started taking medications and therapy.”
Helping one another means coming together. In order to better serve and understand those who struggle with mental illness, San Miguel emphasizes that mental health education should be made aware of by society as a whole. “Maybe add it to what they teach within the school and faculty…as early as elementary or high school. [It’s] very important na maging aware ‘yung mga tao regarding mental health.”
(It’s very important that people become aware of mental health.)
On the other hand, Hong presses for the acknowledgement from private institutions and corporations. He suggests that companies impose policies to recognize such, recalling the times he struggled to ask for a sick leave at his previous employer for mental health reasons, “I couldn’t state [on the] letter [that it was for] mental health reasons so I had to make up a fake illness,” he confesses. “A good measure to have in place is providing allowance for sick leaves or absences for mental health reasons.”
Light at the end of the tunnel
The stigma toward mental health and the struggles cannot be completely avoided by policy implementations and advocacies alone. However, having a strong support system of family and friends truly goes a long way in coping with the stressors of these unseen illnesses.
While some find it easy, showing vulnerability and opening up to others is a tough thing to do for some dealing with mental health issues. The first step to pull yourself out of the dark is the hardest, but both Hong and San Miguel stress the importance of knowing it doesn’t have to be dealt with alone. “Don’t be afraid to reach out,” Hong urges. “You’re not a burden…it’s very important to know na andaming magmamahal sa inyo and even if you are diagnosed with something or with mental illness, you’ll be fine,” San Miguel adds.
(There are a lot of people who will love you.)
Hopeline PH by the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation
+63 917 558 4673 (Globe)
+63 918 873 4673 (Smart)
(02) 8804 4673 (PLDT)
In Touch: Crisis Line
+63 917 800 1123 (Globe)
+63 919 056 0709 (Smart)
(02) 8893 7603 (PLDT)
DLSU Office of Counseling and Career Services (Main Office)
Room 203, 2nd floor, Br. Connon Hall
(02) 524 4611 Loc. 419