Did you know that World Mental Health Day, an annual event held every October 10 to raise awareness on the challenges surrounding people struggling with mental health issues, has been observed globally for the past 27 years?
And yet we still have a way to go in acknowledging that mental health concerns—depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and schizophrenia, to name a few—are legitimate and serious concerns that can be addressed and, for some, even cured with the proper diagnosis and treatment.
Still, thanks to events like World Mental Health Day (whose theme for 2019 is Suicide Prevention) as well as various awareness campaigns and people bravely speaking up about their personal mental health experiences, society has started to keep an open mind toward this misunderstood and often neglected facet of our health and wellbeing.
My Pope reviews how far we’ve come in dealing with mental health issues.
Then: Mental health issues were non-issues. You simply had to get over them.
Now: Mental health issues can now be addressed, thanks to a law.
In June 2018, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Republic Act 11036, or the Philippine Mental Health Law, which “seeks to establish a national mental health policy directed towards improving the health of the population,” said a release from the Department of Health. “Specifically, it aims to provide mental health services at the barangay level, and integrate mental health and wellness programs in the grassroots level so that interventions will be felt by the communities. It also seeks to improve mental health facilities and to promote mental health education in schools and workplaces. Mechanisms for suicide intervention, prevention, and response strategies, with particular attention to the concerns of the youth, will be part of the national mental health program.”
According to mentalhealth.gov, mental health can be rooted in the following:
- Biological factors, such as genes, physical illness, injury, or brain chemistry
- Life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse
- Family history of mental health problems
As such, “getting over it” is not as easy—or even possible—without the support of professionals, medication, and the love and understanding of family and friends.
Then: Only “weirdos” suffered from mental health issues.
Now: Anybody can have mental health issues.
Comedian Robin Williams, designer Kate Spade, and traveling chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain are just some of the international celebrities who shocked the world by suddenly taking their own lives due to depression.
In these shores, noted psychologist Margarita “Margie” Holmes’ book Down to 1 features stories of accomplished individuals (herself included) suffering from depression: film directors Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes, fashion designer Patis Tesoro, and journalists Alya Honasan and Elizabeth Lolarga, among others. Recently, Cenacle sister Ma. Cecille Tuble wrote a revealing piece about her lengthy bout with major depressive disorder for the Inquirer.
In other words, no one is exempt from mental health illness. Everyone can have it and no one should be judged for it.
Then: Seeking professional help meant you were weak.
Now: Seeking professional help means you are proactive about your wellbeing.
That some counseling centers now have a wait-list for one to be able to see a trained and experienced psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist proves that the stigma for seeking professional help has lessened.
Indeed, there is no shame in admitting that you have anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts––and that there is a need to see a trained professional, someone whom you are comfortable opening up to and who can help you do something about it.
Then: Taking medication will mess up your body and brain.
Now: With proper diagnosis and prescription, medication can help.
While not everyone diagnosed with a mental health problem needs to take medication, those who are prescribed medicines can see these pills as a way to help them function and get through each day without having to suffer overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and anxiety.
Yes, people can react differently to the same medication, so if you feel something’s wrong, don’t just stop taking your meds—tell your doctor right away so he or she can adjust your intake, or prescribe an alternative.
Then: Having a mental health illness meant it was okay to flake on people or turn in inferior work.
Now: Mental health illness isn’t a crutch. It’s not an excuse for you to bail on your responsibilities or life in general.
Like any health condition, your mental health issue can be addressed, managed, and, possibly even overcome. With the proper treatment and, more importantly, the right attitude, you can live life as a functional and productive member of society.