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Understanding depression and mental illness

Never give up on someone with mental illness. When ‘i’ is replaced by ‘we,’ illness becomes wellness,” said inspirational author Shannon Alder.

Depression and mental health issues affect us and so many people we know and hold dear. It gives me hope that we can all make a difference in the lives of others. The World Health Organization (WHO) stressed this when they observed World Mental Health Day last October 10 with the theme focusing on “psychological first aid.”

WHO recommends we reach out and help those who are affected by crises. Whether it is an accident where people are hurt, or disaster relief, or personal/family crisis of those dear to us, learning the basic principles of psychological first aid will help us provide support to people who are very distressed. It is very important also to know what not to say.

What to say and do? “Be honest and trustworthy. Respect people’s right to make their own decisions. Be aware of and set aside your own biases. Respect privacy. Be patient and calm. Allow for silence. Provide factual information, only if you have it. Give information in a way the person can understand — keep it simple. Acknowledge how they are feeling and any losses or important events they tell you about, such as loss of their home or death of a loved one. ‘I am so sorry. I can imagine this is very sad for you.’ Acknowledge the person’s strength and how they have helped themselves,” the joint information poster of WHO and the Department of Health (DOH) said.

More importantly, in enabling non-professionals to help people in crisis situations, WHO and DOH reminded us of things we shouldn’t do or say, such as: “Don’t pressure someone to tell their story. Don’t interrupt or rush someone’s story. Don’t force help on people. Don’t judge what they have or haven’t done, or how they are feeling. Don’t say, ‘You shouldn’t feel that way,’ or ‘You should feel lucky you survived.’ Don’t use technical terms. Don’t tell someone else’s story. Don’t talk about your own troubles. Don’t give false promises or false assurances. Don’t think and act as if you must solve all the person’s problems for him/her.”

We sought more insights on the subject from Dr. Violeta Bautista, clinical psychologist and director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Office of Counseling and Guidance.

The Philippine STAR: What is mental health?

DR. VIOLETA BAUTISTA: Mental Health refers to a state of psycho-social well-being in which every individual realizes his/her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can be resilient in the face of extreme life events, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a positive contribution to his/her community.

How does one know if he/she or another person is mentally unwell?

There is persistent dysfunction in patterns of thinking, feeling, relating, behaving, etc. There is persistent personal distress and patterns of thinking, feeling, relating, behaving deviate from what is socially acceptable. The dysfunction is such that it causes significant disturbance at work, in one’s studies and/or relationships.

What are the most common problems that result in mental illness?

I guess you mean problems of living — poverty (financial concerns), family conflicts, domestic violence, relationship issues among teens and young adults, identity issue, purpose and meaning in life, work life balance, unemployment (lack of match between work and interests), etc.

How aware is the Philippine society about the importance of promoting mental health?

There is developing awareness — given talk shows like Ophra as well as stories coming out of disasters where the psychological state of survivors is featured; the emphasis on wellness, WHO-inspired mental health-related events, and the filing of the Mental Health Act — of the millennials, which includes emotional wellness, all this coming together to make Filipinos more sensitive to the need to promote, protect mental health.

What are the common mental health illnesses? Once diagnosed, can these be cured?

Depression and anxiety. Most mental health problems are manageable. There are many psychiatric medications available and psychotherapy is a well- developed science.

Why is it hard to talk about mental illness?

Mental illness is always associated with being crazy. That is not necessarily so. There is also the belief that there is no life after mental illness, which is not so either. Mental illness is also associated with weakness, ineffectiveness in life, hindrance to finding employment, etc.

Why is there an increase in teen suicide and what can we do to help? Are there warning signs of one being suicidal?

Globalization exposes young people to different lifestyles, beliefs... there is no ready, available person to help process such information. Parents are busy. OFW is not bad, but if there is no creative response to the challenge of parents being absent, then children are adversely affected; it really becomes a problem when both parents leave for overseas work. New developments, such as LGBT, are not matched with education that helps teens understand and deal with actual-life challenges. The pace of life is also faster, with higher demands on children. Technology speeds up life, makes learning more challenging, and young people need to keep pace. Old values are being challenged and there are not enough venues for intelligent and health discussions.

What can we (family, school, workplace) do to promote the mental health of our children/ students/employees? What areas are important to develop?

Mental health should be integrated into all aspects of living across different developmental stages and should be a concern in the workplace, in school, and not only in mental health institutions. Mental health should not stop with the discussion of mental illness; mental health is about thriving, flourishing, growth, resilience, and life effectiveness.

Programs should be developed in different settings that help people of all ages and socio-economic levels to live effectively. Laws, policies should be passed that would make possible the establishment and implementation of mental health programs. There should be places manned by experts/professionals where people with mental health issues can go. There should be training for lay people to become competent in facilitating growth and responding to crisis.

What is your greatest challenge in advocating for mental health? Why is the advocacy important for you? How can readers support the advocacy?

Mental health programs should be mainstreamed — not only made available to the middle-class population. There are few mental health professionals — so there is a need for mobilizing “natural nurturers” or people who are naturally skilled in people helping and will need skills and knowledge enhancement so they can be more effective in people helping. Advocacy is important if you want to facilitate wide-scale changes that reach Filipinos across different socio-economic status and cultural groups; laws need to be passed that make mental health a national, governmental concern;  laws are important for they create awareness, value, and set aside budget that allows for things to happen.

I advocate not only for treatment, since only about 10-15 percent of the population will be dealing with mental illness; the rest of the population’s concern is growth and resilience in the face of challenges.  I want people to be aware of this — and support prevention and promotion programs and not only treatment programs.  One does not have to be mentally ill to be interested and to benefit from mental health programs.

How can readers help?

Attend fora and read materials on the subject so you get educated on healthy and evidence-based perspectives on  the subject. Serve as volunteers to NGOs and INGOs and government agencies addressing mental health concerns. Financially, support creative and promising initiatives to further goals of mental health programs in the country.

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Post me a note at mylene@goldsgym.com.ph or mylenedayrit@gmail.com.

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