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It’s Okay To Ask For Help Even When You Aren’t Struggling As Much As The Next Person, Psychiatrist Says

As part of the #BreakTheStigma campaign, mental health experts and advocates say there is nothing wrong with asking for and needing help.
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Nowadays, people are more empowered to open up about their struggles with mental health. It helps to have an accessible platform like social media as another avenue for self-expression. We can easily put across our thoughts or get in touch with other people for help. Despite this, many are still misinformed or uneducated about issues pertaining to our mental well-being. There’s still plenty of ground to cover when it comes to dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health.

One effort that aims to break that stigma is the recent mental health conference organized by Upjohn, a division of Pfizer, held in Makati City on October 17. The conference aims to start conversations on mental health by inviting experts and advocates alike to discuss accurate and pertinent data, provide expert advice, as well as share their own thoughts about the current state of mental health in the country.

By the numbers

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health conditions experienced by people around the world. In the country, 3.3 million Filipinos—that’s 3.3 percent of the total population—suffer from depressive disorders, while 3.1 million or 3.1 percent of the total population suffer from anxiety disorders.

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In 2012, there were 2,558 reported suicide cases and 8 in 10 of the reported cases were among males. Young adults and teenagers aged 15 to 23 years old have the highest risk for suicide. In the Philippines, the suicide rate in 2012 was at 2.9 per 100,000 Filipinos, the lowest rate among the ASEAN countries.

Currently, there are around 101 million Filipinos, but only 700 of which are registered psychiatrists and 1,000 are psychiatric nurses. For every 100,000 Filipinos, there are only two mental health workers available to attend to them.

Additionally, only 5 percent of the Department of Health's budget is allocated for mental health. But now that the Republic Act No. 11036, also known as the Mental Health Law, has been signed into law, Filipinos look forward to a more accessible and comprehensive mental health program. 

#BreakTheStigma

Talking about how we felt nervous and restless in school isn’t exactly as easy as telling someone we caught a cold. Compared to colds, feeling nervous doesn’t necessarily have any immediate physical manifestations that are easily observable by someone else, which is why people struggle to accept it as a symptom of an impending health concern.

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For Riyan Portuguez of Mental Health PH, a nonprofit organization geared towards fostering a mentally healthy community especially through social media and digital technology, people seem to associate the term “mental health” with its negative aspects, which further engraves the stigma surrounding the topic. Consequently, many who struggle with mental health concerns find it difficult to open up for fear of being seen as weak. Riyan shares, however, that asking for help and talking about their struggles actually take a lot of courage to do.

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For Janna Pulido, also of Mental Health PH, the biggest misconception she noticed about mental health is that people used to think that only girls are allowed to have problems and ask for help because only girls are "allowed to cry." Now, however, she's observed that people are starting to forgo the false impression as more and more men have started to come forward for help. 

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Riyan also stresses that it’s okay to talk about your problems. As family members or friends of people who experience mental health issues, we must also be open to initiate the conversation and reach out to them to let them know that it’s safe to confide and ask for help from you.

What can we do when a peer opens up to us about their struggles with mental health?

According to Dr. Robert Buenaventura, a psychiatrist and a life fellow at the Philippine Psychiatric Association, even those who might not be clinically diagnosed with mental health conditions experience daily struggles with mental health. Despite the absence of diagnosis, however, people shouldn't be discouraged to ask for professional help. He says, “Not all of us will have mental health disorders, but some of us will have mental health concerns, and these are individuals who may benefit from seeking professional consultation as well.”

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When a peer opens up about their struggle with mental health, our primary response would be to help. Despite having good intentions, our idea of help might not always be effective and may actually be doing the opposite. During the mental health conference, we asked Dr. Buenaventura for guidelines on how to effectively express support for fellow students.

Encourage them to seek counseling within your school.

“What we recommend to schools would be two things. Number one, there should be a guidance counseling office,” Dr. Buenaventura shares. According to him, however, not all schools may have the means to hire full-time guidance counselors who can provide immediate help to students in need. “Ang second recommendation namin is to develop a peer-counseling service. Students, young adults, and teenagers usually prefer to talk to peers. So you select a group of individuals who are compassionate and empathetic, and train them. They’re not going to be the full-time counselors, but they can do the initial steps.”

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Let your peer know you’re open to listening to them when they’re ready to share their problems.

Dr. Buenaventura emphasizes the importance of peer support. “Usually, young adults would prefer or are more open to talking to close friends.” He says that, oftentimes, having someone who’s willing to listen to you without judgement is already comforting to know. “What I often teach my students is the process of psychological first aid. The first step is reflective listening. They don’t need to provide constructive advice. You can simply listen to the person, because oftentimes, we just need to be able to vent.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health concerns, here are some important numbers and websites in the Philippines:

Crisis Line (for free, non-judgmental, and anonymous telephone counseling):

Landline: (02) 893-7603

Globe Duo: 0917-800-1123 / 0917-506-7314

Sun Double Unlimited: 0922-893-8944 / 0922-346-8776

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www.in-touch.org

National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline:

(02) 989-USAP (989-8727)

0917-899-USAP (0917-899-8727)

Center for Family Ministries (for spiritual counseling):

www.cefam.ph

Landline: (02) 426-4289 to 92

Ateneo Bulatao Center:

Landine: (02) 426-5982

E-mail: bulataocenter.ls@ateneo.edu

Online resources for mental health and suicide prevention:

www.suicide.org

www.iasp.info

www.afsp.org

www.befrienders.org

www.imalive.org

www.thehopeline.com

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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Winning Heart

The journey of how I won people’s hearts by having a winning heart

Whatever happens tonight, I am a winner. That was the last line I delivered in front of the roaring crowd. My knees were trembling and my smile was shaking. I wanted to radiate confidence but I knew inside me were whirling storms of uncertainty. I wasn’t sure how to carry on for the rest of the night, it was only the first hour and my soul was already exhausted. I stood in front of an unfamiliar sea of people, I felt uncomfortable as they fixed their glances on me. The stage was bright and flashy as my co-contestants glazed the platform with outstanding physique and beauty. I couldn’t look straight at them because every time I did, a bucketful of insecurity was being poured on me. The whole pageant took about a few hours but it felt like eternity to me. I repeatedly asked myself questions every single time I stood on that platform. My vision was impaired by the blinding spotlights and all I could hear were the deafening roar of the audience combined with the booming music of the event. My head was filled with questions like “why are you here?”, “Will you be okay?” What will others think of you?” “What if you fail?”. Every step was heavier as I continued to overthink.

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For a moment on stage, I felt like I was floating. I was staring blankly at the end of the gymnasium. I was awakened by the loud cheer from the front row, I fixed my glance and saw large letters A-B-Y. it was like a snap to reality, I realized that’s my name. This time I could hear the synchronized cheers of people screaming my name. I smiled, walked away from the spotlight as I whispered to myself “let’s do this”. As the curtains opened, I walked towards the stage I felt lighter and different from the person a while ago. Walking was much easier and my knees weren’t trembling any longer. I stood at the edge of the stage, wandered my glance, and smiled genuinely. Flashing those pearly whites took barrels of longtime stored courage from within me. I marveled at how I could see the rainbow in the lights, the spotlights weren’t blinding anymore.

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My feet started stomping to the music every time I pose and my hips would flawlessly sway to the music. The roar of the audience was overwhelming no more, it was like whispers lost in the beat of the music. I knew as I stood there, all I needed to do was smile and be myself. My name was called accompanied by the thunderous applause and booming cheers of the crowd. I stood there alongside with other contestants. I was holding a bouquet and a trophy. I could feel the heavy crown on top of my head. However, the trophy beside me was much bigger, the lady beside me wore an even flashier crown, it was the crown of the titleholder. That night I landed the first runner-up spot. My head was filled with “what ifs”. What if I did just a little better, what if I exerted more effort and so on.

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As I stepped down on stage, several people rushed to me. They were jumping, screaming and clapping. It was so chaotic that it took me a millennium to recognize them, it was my family. They were hugging me from all directions. When I saw their smiles I knew I did great. I realized that was what I meant when I said “whatever happens tonight I am a winner”. Their presence, genuine smiles, and warm hugs meant more than the trophy and sash that night. For them, I was a star who shined through the darkness of the night. Before leaving the venue, a hand tapped me from behind “Congrats,” she whispered I turned to see her, and to my surprise she was a schoolmate who used to tease me because of my chubby physique.

I smiled as I expressed my gratitude towards her. As I walked away, I realized that I accomplished something legendary that night. I was able to showcase that pageants are not only for thin-looking, tall people. I managed to snatch everyone’s attention with this average height and chubby body. That night started with so much uncertainty and insecurity. As I stared at my reflection, I looked exhausted but I was wearing a different smile. A smile of victory and bravery. A smile that defeated the stereotypes and stigma about people like me. That night ended with a realization that maybe winning isn’t always about winning the crown, it’s about winning people’s hearts and having a winning heart.

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