You can’t just stamp band aid on your brain. If it was possible, every 100,000 Filipinos reported in 88 cases of mental health problems listed by the National Center for Mental Health, or children as young as 12 years old committing suicide due to depression would have done that. If only mental health was readily available, I would have taken action and rushed to a first aid kit seven years ago. But it isn’t the case, especially in this country where it is a culture to brush these issues with humor and resilience.
Had it been possible, my classmate would have done it years ago. She has anxiety. Whether diagnosed or not, I am sure that it’s been impairing her everyday functions. In a blink of an eye, the bubbly girl turns into a self-loathing and trembling shadow. Sometimes it happens without any trigger or warning. Once, it struck her at a most unexpected time — during a classroom discussion.
First, she needed to breathe. Second, her sight of the room became a blur. Next, she was shaking. And she had thought of two options: excuse herself to go to the comfort room or go directly to the clinic.
It may seem like her options will help settle her down, but what will toilets and a small cubicle space do? When she does go to the clinic, what will she say? She didn’t need medicine or to rest her head. Actually, she too didn’t know what she needed. Despite this confusion, she was sure there was a strong urge to just get out of the classroom.
But then again, what will she say to her professor? Or her classmates? The impending doom of being misunderstood raised its flag once again. As mental disorder tends to be wrongly accused of being “maarte” or “dramatic” and may sometimes go the length of being branded as “made-up in one’s own head”, it was no wonder my classmate dared not to speak about it. And she is clearly not alone in dealing with the false stigmas on mental health. We have many suffering Filipinos, but what are we doing?
Yes, the Mental Health Law is on its way to implementation but we can’t just wait. There is no point in waiting if you are doing nothing. It is needless to say that you can contribute in several ways even as students. On this day, to start creating a better, nurturing mental health environment for everyone.
First, don’t turn a blind eye on a friend or classmate who you see is feeling down. It is being as guilty as a bystander–idly watching behind the scenes as crime roams the streets. The odds of intervening a possible harm or development of a mental disorder will stay slim as long as there is someone who would show care or concern. Be that person who will listen. If you think that the person is suffering beyond what both parties can handle, we have guidance counselors who you can refer your friend or classmate to.
Second, educate yourself with the correct information regarding mental health problems. There are plenty of credible sources online like psychologytoday.com and psychcentral.com where you can learn about mental health. You don’t have to be a psychology student to understand this. Gaining knowledge about the said matter is part of being a caring human being.
Third, don’t take part in using mental disorders as adjectives to describe one’s characteristics. For example, calling yourself “OC” for being tidy and organize mocks the real condition known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The truth behind this mental disorder is having “recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).” Every minute and every second, individuals with this disorder have high levels of anxiety that nags them to do repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, checking on things or cleaning. It significantly interferes with their normal everyday functions. That is why they are called disorders for a reason. So, don’t take the names of mental disorders lightly.
Finally, if you feel similarly like my classmate and her story, I encourage you to be brave and embrace that it’s okay not to be okay. It is part of the healing process. And standing up for these feelings isn’t wrong but a depiction that your mental health matters. And it does. You matter.