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Culture greatly affects an individual’s mental health-related experiences.

Filipinos at large, when in times


of illnesses or crises, have common coping styles. They stress different values– being matiyaga or being patient
and enduring, having lakas ng loob or flexibility– and beliefs like pagtawa sa mga problema or laughing at
problems thus emphasizing humor, papapasadiyos na lamang, ‘bahala na’ or fatalistic resignation. This culture
has been inculcated in the mindset of the ages and continues to live and proliferate today. But everything seems
too accentuated on its idealistic and positive direction, neglecting realistic and justifiable concerns that deserve
exclusion from these conventions, and among others are certain mental health concerns.
“Anak, positive thinking lang adi (Child, just think positive),” were my Igorot father’s words when he
found me in bed one gloomy morning. It was the first time he had seen me like that, hurled and unmoved in bed
with my face covered by strands of hair, as he tucked them on my ear. He was sitting beside me and muttering
words that would compare my ‘tantrums’ to what others might be going through– unable to fend for themselves,
with no food to eat and no economic privileges in life. In his mind, he was trying to encourage and motivate me,
but during that time, I was apparently dealing with something that I, mysel, could not understand; I was having
a bout of severe depression.
Before that moment, my father had just arrived from Mountain Province, my hometown, after hearing from
my mother that they would both have to bring me to a psychiatrist later that day. He probably had no idea about
what mental health concerns I could be having but after our meeting with the doctor, we went home with a
bunch of expensive medicines and our atmosphere was just overcome with silence. Since then, I never heard a
word from my dad that would talk about my illness. Except after three months from that first moment where he
talked about positive thinking.
His words were accompanied with tears; my strong father who rarely cries and seems to always carry a
serious façade was blaming himself, reminiscing how he came short as my father.
My father’s first remarks are a stark example of how most Filipinos or Igorots, in particular, deem
emotional spurts. Common folks would kindly give advice that apparently minimizes the gravity of the problem
to the latter person or individuals. Sometimes, if asked about depression, they would simply associate it with
sadness caused by an event that didn’t go according to what was wanted, such as having breakups in
relationships, failing in school and petty family issues. In turn, the notion would come to us saying that
teenagers, in particular, do not have a reason to be depressed. These beliefs only stigmatize serious and
legitimate mental health concerns.
Meanwhile, also being diagnosed with schizophrenia which is characterized by psychosis or having
hallucinations and delusions, news of my situation reached my church community, thanks to my mother’s
audacity and her manner of showing care for me. I was overwhelmed with devastating shame as I knew that to
my fellow Igorots, having a mental illness connotes a weak spirit, and belonging to a community of tradition,
although only to some minimal extent, my case was related to lowly spirits that could be disturbing me. But
being in a Christian community of relatively strong faith, although somewhat or could be fatalistic in nature. It
was thought of as God’s allowance for me, my family and the community involved to grow in faith and for
whatever good reasons that He has for us. This notion was better than hearing the case of that of someone I
knew whose mental state was attributed to divine retribution as a consequence of personal and ancestral
transgression.
Furthermore, people who have mental illness may also feel the stigma of speaking out because of the
ignorant adjectives that society has known and has subconsciously labeled its individuals. Previous researches
also suggest that negative attitudes towards people with mental health problems are widespread among the
Filipino general public. They are thought of to be dangerous, hard to talk with and self-inflicted or attention-
seekers.
Despite certain advocacies about mental health in social media nowadays, disparities of awareness and
concern are still eminent amongst communities, amongst parents and their children. In particular, because we
live in a culture that emphasizes humor amidst pain, mental disorders such as depression are undermined and
their psychological and biological implications are overlooked. Additionally, over the years, the word
‘depression,’ has slithered like a normal word that people use to describe their feelings and preventing a general
awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control. But what people do not understand is that
feeling depressed is different from depression.
I personally have come into terms with this disease, and one can list numerous metaphors of how
depression feels like and it would never really be enough to encapsulate the whole range of emotions that comes
with it. It’s feeling all the pain, melancholy, helplessness, restlessness, despair, loneliness, anxiety,
discouragement, disappointment, misery, guilt, shame, anguish, wretchedness that people choose to end their
lives. But what I have learned most in dealing with it in the type of culture that I have is to stand on my ground,
by pagiging matiyaga with people who may have silent criticisms about me brought by the stereotypes of my
illness and understanding how innocence hones culture, and vice versa, so that these people could be blameless,
at least for me.
Cultural perceptions of Filipinos are not generally harmful to treating mental health issues. One of its
biggest impacts that I have discerned for myself is to rely more on spirituality to help cope with adversity and
symptoms of mental illness but not necessarily omitting the premise of science. Thus, I have dreamt for myself
that I could be able to talk about its realities ouy in the open and spread awareness of its intricacies. And as
responsible and learned individuals in the society, we ought to inform ourselves with the right conventions and
take action when grounds are open, or to open grounds where talking about mental health can bring light
towards understanding the seriousness of the issue. We owe it to our culture that may, perhaps, at first did not
want to recognize the existence of mental health issues, and the development of our conceptions about the
different pursuits of humanity may bring us to an evolved and inclusive type of culture.