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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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I was, but I am not. Desperately, I am trying to reach you – my hope. I am in this particular space in my own constructed world where doubts and frustrations recur. Emphasizing how scared I am being here, I never explored this area before. I was always in those places filled with benevolence, hope shining like the light the sun and the moon possess. And I didn’t have any plans to visit a ‘dark’ place, as how I described it then. But, as funny as how my world suddenly flipped, I am now here, completely lost with monsters persuading me to go insane.

How did I end up here? I can’t logically tell you the answer for that, but I guess, I know when. It started when I had to consider what college course do I want to pursue. Well, if you want to ask what ambition had occurred in my mind when I was young – which is usually the case in terms of life when you were like 7-year-old young - it was definitely being a doctor. I’d thought about wearing a medical coat with a stethoscope around my neck, ready to cure people from their illnesses. It was actually stuck in my mind for so long I almost thought that I was sure of it, yet, as a particular song yields, almost was never really enough and still, it is and will never be.

When I realized that such a perspective was slowly draining me, I tried my best to stand tough. I convinced myself that this was just temporary, that I could think of a way out of this. “There’s still plenty of time,” I once convinced myself. However, my environment demonstrated the contrary: I felt like I was completely out of time.

I was there when my classmates were happily talking about that ‘dream course’ they wish to take in their ‘dream university.’ I was there when my family was suggesting the thought of using my ‘suitable’ speaking voice for broadcasting and voice acting purposes. I was there when my teacher was convincing me that Education suited me the best. That ‘Stand tough!’ aura I used to own back then, suddenly transformed into ‘I give up!’ state, slowly destroying my being. And now, I am here in this space where doubts and frustrations are filling my former enthusiastic self. I need help.

I know, at this point, some of you may never consider me ‘fatal’ because, as you’re reading this, you may judge that I still have the ability to transform my thoughts into words that can be read, so that ‘automatically’ falls into the aspect of complete sanity. No, because I will never tell everything to you in the first place if I still have the urge to stand like I used to, relative to my belief that speaking up through writing is the best way to attract help.

When you look at the photo of mine above, you may say that I was okay. That I was successful. That I was never losing myself. Yes, I was. But, think about what happened days after that was taken and the message of this passage you started reading minutes before, do you think I am still the same girl smiling in the photo? I hope I will be or better yet, improve if the world will permit me. But, now I’m sure – I’m not the same.

LIFE ADVICE YOU NEED TO HEAR WHILE YOURE STILL YOUNG

This blog is dedicated to all teens out there struggling in determining what they really want in their life or if you simply want a glow up. And since were still facing a pandemic, I think this is also a season where everyone is re-thinking about their lives. So, I hope these advices might help you.

Tip #1. TAKE RISK - since most of you are still young, I advice you to take your biggest risk. Whether it may be taking the course you want, a skill you want to acquire or just simply taking the risk to throw away your emotional baggage from your childhood. While you're still young, you have very little to lose. You dont have that much commitments and responsibilities. Because the older you get, the more responsibilities and obligations came. So when they are still not piling up, take the risk! As for me, the biggest risk I took when I was still a teenager is to CUT OFF TOXIC FAMILY TIES.

I may sound rude here but, yeah. I decided to throw away my emotional baggage from my traumatic childhood and cut off some of my family ties and it is completely okay! You dont have to be bothered by whatever they will say. Because at your age, you are already investing on your growth as a person. If you really want to grow, THERE IS NO PERFECT TIME FOR YOU TO TAKE RISK BUT NOW. Because in taking risk you are actually giving yourself a reward of getting something amazing or beyond what you expect you can have. As they say, the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. Keep in mind that the bigger the risk, the bigger possibility of FAILURE. But that is completely OKAY. Because just like what I said earlier, you are still young. You dont have so much to lose so, dont be afraid to take the risk and then fail. But after failing, learn from it and the more courage you have to take risk the greater the learning, reward or happiness. Ito na nga, how to take risk nga ba? And what are the risk that would actually help me to grow? #

2: VOICE LESSON - dont get me wrong, hindi ito vocalization para sa pagkanta. What I mean is, learn to listen to that VOICE INSIDE YOU. Listen to your heart, to your intuition and to your visions because it will be your GUIDE. Because I realize that as you go along your journey of your life and if you really want to be YOURSELF and be successful in achieving your goals, the only GUIDE that you should follow is your OWN VOICE.

It is okay to take and consider other people's advices but at the end of the day,you should never forget to listen to your own voice. Because that voice is what tells you what you truly want. How would you know that if it is your 'own' voice? Your own voice always comes from your HEART. The voice where YOU and GOD'S voice are one. Because I firmly believe that God knows your heart and that is where he reside. I like journaling because whenever I journal my thought every night and every morning, I feel a dual voice inside my head. Like, it contradicts what the other voice is telling. For example: If we have dreams or goals that puts us so much weight and pressure to the point that it makes you exhausted, STOP. Because it might be a dream or goal of someone else. I believe that your own dreams and goals may be frustrating most of the time, but that frustration has fueling feeling that will always tell you that 'This is the hard way to better so keep going'. Frustration in your own dreams will not make you feel exhausted because achieving a dream itself is a fulfilling feeling.

#3. TAKE ACTION - if you really want something to happen, take action. Dont just sit there and wait things to come your way. Make action or decisions that will take you to where you want to go in your life. Just like what I said in one of my novels that I am writing in wattpad, "There is no such thing as destiny or fate. Because YOU make your OWN life choices." For example, I cannot expect to be a published author if I dont write any novels right? The bottomline here is, if you are not moving forward you are actually moving backward. And it is a sad thing. Life is full of situations where you will be put in the line whether you take courage or just stay where you are. Because GROWING needs consistency in moving forward. So if you dont have to enough courage to take action, your life will always stay the same or worse you will continuously shrink down.

#4. EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS - this means stretching your comfort zone. I watched an anime entitled "Black Clover" there is a captain there where he always tell his subordinates to surpass their limits right, here right now. Going out of our comfort zones are surely scary and uncomfortable. But you have to accept the fact that you cannot stay on the coast forever. You have to change, because the only thing that is constant in this world is change right? Go out of your comfort zones because LIMITS are just in the MIND. There are disabled people who are successful in their own careers. Because the lesson here is, if you hold back there will be no growth. Because GROWTH blooms in DISCOMFORT.

Last, #5. INVEST IN YOURSELF - especially now that you are still young, you should focus on investing on yourself more. Time is your bestfriend at this point of your life. You have so much time to discover things about yourself. I never regret buying and reading books that I never knew will help me later on in dealing life's challenges. You can use that time to read books, gain wisdom, or pick a new skill, improve your talent and learn from your experiences. Keep learning outside your home or your school. Because the real battlefield is OUTSIDE. What you learn in school will only help you in your career but your wisdom and experiences will help you in life or as a person. People who doesnt embrace growth will never succeed in their life. (This is a reflection blog from my 21st birthday last week. I hope you can feature this on your page and I hope it can help others as well. )

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