I contend that mental health at large is widely misunderstood. I haven’t remembered talking about depression until I got to college when we studied Shakespeare. That was fourth year; 2013. Fairly recent. I had to crawl to know what Hamlet said when he recited, ‘To be or not to be.’ Then again, the topic was so in passing (*coughs* MSU *coughs*).
In other words, you are privileged to have Dr. Friales and the NSTP facilitators who are here to make sure that no one gets left behind when speaking about these crucial illnesses.
Mental health has a long history of stigma. For quite some time, people living with mental illnesses are depicted on media as violent people who need to be kept inside a dark mental institution. The word choice we use to people living with depression are lazy, weak, unmotivated, or inconvenient. When we find out one has sought treatment from a psychiatrist, we ask them to stop being so negative, to get over it, like we wanted these in the first place. We try to fix them like they’re a broken machine. We reduce their suffering by saying ‘Madali lang iyan. Kulang ka lang sa prayers (It’s just easy. You just lack prayers).’ And worse, we stay away from them.
I know this because I have been seeking treatment from a psychiatrist too. I have my bouts on clinical depression, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, suicidal thoughts, and I may confirm if I have post-traumatic stress disorder.
After this talk, I’ll go home facing my real problems.
Because of the negative stereotypes we attach to mental health, we lose people. We discourage them to be strong by confronting their own issues. To think of it, developing a more nurturing environment is as easy as changing our minds, and talking about mental health properly.
Mental health is not a trending topic
As I have said earlier, mental health is older than Virginia Woolf and William Shakespeare. The Shakespearean play Hamlet contains arguably the most popular soliloquy on contemplating suicide:
To be or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.
But a lot of corny influencers think they are Shakespeare. They put a sexy, or cute face to depression. There’s nothing sexy or glamorous with wanting to end one’s life. It doesn’t help promote understanding if we use mental illnesses to gather traction and capitalize on it.
One song from Crazy ex-girlfriend criticizes the exploitative social movements and uses the poop metaphor. Listen to this:
Mental health does not mean weakness of faith
Spiritual weakness is wrongly associated with mental health. Some people think we can pray away mental health, which unwittingly implies that those who are undergoing depression lacks prayer, or are not strong.
I would like to think I am a spiritual person, and if there’s something I have gained from my depression, it’s my faith. Sure, there are times I am mad at God. I trash-talk Him. But I do not see this as weakness. It’s a spiritual experience for me. In the words of St. Augustine—who seems to had faced depression too—he said: “You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which You created.”
Mental health transcends all walks of life
Mental illnesses do not discriminate. The rich, the poor, the Hollywood stars, male, female, Filipino, American—all of us can encounter infirmities in the mind.
As long as you love, you can feel loss. Our capacity to love creates vulnerability within us, because we allow ourselves to be naked, to experience what not to have because we have experienced what to have. We all have feelings, and our feelings can be rejected, hurt, taken for granted. Our feelings can be abused, toyed on, and be ghosted.
In other words, your experiences, genetics, and the world you are living in, and the climate change you have to endure—not your fault. We cannot blame depressives for what they feel. We can only blame tectonic plates and the Big Bang.
Mental health is like physical health
To see is to believe right? It’s hard to believe one has depression because we never see stitches and bandages around one’s head, unlike a leg injury.
But just because we don’t see our brain doesn’t mean it is not true.
What I’m showing to you are the differences between a brain with no mental illnesses and a brain with different ailments:
Let us use quantity to talk about how ‘ordinary’ or ‘alarming’ mental health is.
The World Health Organization reports that “one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point of their lives.” That’s 450 million of us. Meanwhile, 300 million people are living with depression. Then we lose one person by suicide in every 40 seconds.
According to DOH, 3.3 million Filipinos suffer from depressive disorders, with suicide rates in 2.5 in males and 1.7 females per 100,000. The statistics of people living with mental illnesses could increase if more people seek help.
*This second part is an enhanced version of my four-part speech titled “The situation is a lot more nuanced than that: A meditation on mental health through Crazy ex-girlfriend.” For the first part, click here.