Never judge a book by its cover
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - June 18, 2018 - 12:00am

In the past month we’ve lost two very respected and famous personalities in their fields. One was fashion designer Kate Spade – known for her quirky and fun loud and colorful designs coveted by women around the world. The other was famed culinary genius and television host Anthony Bourdain – who endeared himself to Filipinos the world over for raving about Filipino cuisine including different street food, island delicacies, and even Jollibee.

The sad part is that we didn’t just lose these luminaries and inspirations to millions, but that they were lost to suicide – something that has claimed the lives of so many people all over the world. Over the years, suicide numbers have continued to rise and it seems as though no one knows what to do to help mitigate this or, at the very least, discuss it in an open and non-judgmental manner.

Here in the Philippines, in particular, suicide and depression is a very important topic that unfortunately people still don’t know how to talk about. It’s extremely taboo and for the most part, Filipinos have chosen not to address it and just pretend it doesn’t happen. This has not been working for us and every year roughly 800,000 lives in the country are lost to depression and suicide. Plus for all those who have successfully taken their own lives are countless others who may have tried and not been successful. It’s reaching critical mass and we need to change the way we look at mental illness, depression, and suicide.

I think one of the most important factors we have to change in the way we think that suicide is only for those who are very sad or facing huge struggles or losses in life. As Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have proven even those who are extremely successful and wealthy can still be facing darkness and feeling sadness that we may not know about. It’s important that we know that mental illness is not something that we can take at face value but something we need to be more sensitive about.

Perhaps one of the reasons people have a hard time talking about their feelings and their anxieties is that here in the Philippines we tend to be taught that we have to control our feelings and show that we are always okay. I don’t know how this started but I believe that it may be a “Filipino resiliency” issue that is being taken too far. We are made to believe that we are a resilient people and we should not show signs of weakness. We just need to soldier on no matter what life throws at us.

In general Filipinos don’t have a healthy way of dealing with their emotions. Most of them just bury them deep down and try to pretend they don’t exist. Or they laugh about their problems and just go about their day. Perhaps it’s a cultural problem but it’s something we need to change if we want things to be different. That’s not to say that being positive isn’t a good thing, but blindly just pretending that everything is going to be fine is not. This is what leads to overwhelming depression that can one day just come tumbling down.

I do feel though that recent events have made Filipinos more open to discussing their issues even if just with their closest friends. Since the recent rash of famous deaths – memes and information have been circulating social media sharing suicide and hope hotlines and urging people to share how they feel – if they are feeling overwhelmed or scared or alone. While this is definitely a step in the right direction, there is still a lot of work to be done and it is only the beginning.

Here’s hoping that we can be more open and honest. Having a healthy relationship with emotions does not make a person weak – quite the opposite in fact – it’s the best way to make someone strong.

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The government has been pushing the “Build, build, build” agenda and while I see the value of investing in better infrastructure for the Philippines I can’t help but wish that some of their investment was in the healthcare sector. This sector seems to have been woefully forgotten over the years and I don’t think I am overstating things when I say that it is one of the most important ones.

In general the world’s health has been on a steady decline over the past few decades despite the advent of new medicine and technology. This is most likely due to more stress, bad eating, and pollution that have also increased exponentially. People need to take better care of their health no more than ever and I think it’s important that the government help them do this by investing in more government owned specialized hospitals and institutions.

It’s no secret that our government owned hospitals are severely lacking. Not only are there too few but also they are not spread far enough part. They rarely get the funding they need and they are overflowing with patients and not enough staff. This should not be the case. How can they help the people when they are struggling themselves? And instead of finding viable long-term solutions, the government flirted with the idea of privatizing public hospitals to be done with the “expenses.” A terrible solution to a worsening problem

Fortunately the House recently passed a bill banning the privatization of public government hospitals saying that these institutions are needed to help the poor and that there are enough private hospitals to cater to the rich. Here is the thing though – the middle class covers such a wide berth of people and these are usually unable to find a viable solution in either hospital. They find themselves not viable candidates for the public hospitals because they are not “poor” enough, but they also can’t get care in private hospitals (especially for complicated sicknesses and procedures) because they are not “rich” enough. Where are these people supposed to go?

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