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Dealing with mental health stigma  

(PIA) -- Why is it  that when someone is diagnosed with a physical illness, we unite around  him or her them and offer our support. But when we  know or hear  of  someone  with  mental health  concerns, we ignore and unconsciously become insensitive to the topic?

We sometimes  offer platitudes like "snap out of it," "just be positive," or "a lot of people have it worse than you" to someone who  has a mental  health condition,  from the mildest to the most severe forms. This glossing over real emotional pain can do far more harm than good.

Millions of people suffer from excessive anxiety,  depression or apathy,  extreme mood swings,  inability to cope with problems or daily activities, marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns and  personality like excessive anger or violent behavior, and suicidal tendencies. These, according to the World Health Organization,  are symptoms of mental illness.

Regardless of the cause, mental health disorders  are real health issues, and we have to accept that. 

However, many people who have signs and symptoms  of mental health  disorders  usually  avoid treatment out of shame or fear. 

For decades, people with mental health issues have been marginalized. The community view them with fear, mistrust, and discrimination.

In observance of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week(September 10-16), and Mental Health Awareness Month in October,  Nurse Cyra Policarpio of the Baguio City Health Services talked about mental health for our better awareness and  understanding and reduce stigma  amidst  rising cases of anxiety and depressive disorders  and suicide especially among the young  age group.

Mental Health In This Generation

This generation has been labeled as the most depressed generation. And  accordingly,  the COVID-19 pandemic has something   to do with  the state of mental health today.

Nurse Cyra Policarpio of the Baguio CHSO (right) discusses about mental health among the youth in the Usapang PIA radio program on September 14, 2023.

"Youth today are very vulnerable," Nurse Cyra said. When the pandemic struck, millions of teachers and students across the country switched to remote learning. This seismic shift altered and, in some cases, eliminated the wider benefits that schools provide. It also cuts students off from their familiar social structures and networks. This  contributed  to poor mental health.

Other pandemic-related consequences like  loss of income or employment  resulted to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and depression symptoms among young adults and older adults.

Data from the Baguio City Health Services Office shows that for this year alone as of September 12, 2023, the Baguio HSO Mental Health and Wellness Unit  catered  to 281 clients composed of 119 males and 160 females.

 As mentioned, people with mental health conditions often experience discrimination and stigma.

Mental Health Stigma

Stigma occurs when a person defines someone based on  his or her  illness rather than who  he or she  is  as a person.  Often, that person  is  labeled  as 'psychotic'  and even  tagged  "kaartehan"  rather than a person experiencing illness.

It is a  result of a lack of understanding of mental illness as well as some people's negative attitudes or beliefs about it, which results in discrimination against people suffering from mental illnesses which can exacerbate their problems and make recovery more difficult. It may cause the person to avoid seeking help because  he is  afraid of being stigmatized.

Stigma acts as a barrier to diagnosis and treatment, trapping a person in a potentially fatal situation. 

Dealing with the Stigma

Holding on to stigma has far-reaching consequences—not just for the person suffering from mental illness but for everyone.

Removing stigma entails acknowledging that we are all different.

Nurse Cyra  shared some tips  on  reducing prejudice and  stigma against people suffering from mental health  problems.  

Understand the facts

Learn about mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. When meeting people with mental illnesses, avoid passing judgment, labeling, or discriminating. Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
Words have a big impact
Use and choose your words carefully. Others' attitudes can be influenced by how we speak. Avoid  language that emphasizes the disorder  or illness  of an individual.

Know when you are overstepping

Be conscious of your attitudes and behaviors. Examine your own judgmental thinking. Individuals who are shown respect and acceptance can overcome a significant barrier, leading to a successful coping mechanism with their illness.

If we are able to see  individuals   struggling with their mental health issues as people rather than their illness, it can make all the difference.
Start with you

Inform others. Spread facts and positive attitudes; dispel myths and stereotypes; learn about mental illness and share it with family, friends, coworkers, and classmates.

And to those who are suffering and afraid to seek help due to the stigma:
You are not your disease

Do not define yourself by your illness, as some may. Rather than saying "I'm schizophrenic," say "I have schizophrenia." Language has tremendous power. 
It's not about you

Remember that other people's opinions are frequently based on a lack of understanding rather than anything else. Because these assessments are made before they get to know you, don't think their opinions have anything to do with you personally.
Seek help

Local government units are always available to accommodate your needs. Seeking help lowers the cost and impact of illness, allowing more people to thrive and contribute to a more positive society. Regardless of the stigma, always remember that seeking help should be viewed as a positive step that improves one's health, well-being, and happiness.

Ignoring emotions leads to bad decisions. "You have to accept that you have this illness to open up your problems and your struggle. Accepting emotions is therefore beneficial because listening to what you are feeling can teach you important information. "Malayo pa pero malayo na."

As quoted by Policarpio, accepting that you are in this situation and still getting through your everyday life is a great way of coping. You are not alone. 

If you  or  you know someone experiencing  mental heath  problem, please contact the Baguio  City Health Services Offices  at  phone number  0919-069-6361;  Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center - Psychiatric Department -661-7910;  Department of Health - Cordillera Mental Health -0938-757-6458, Philippine Mental Health -0995-093-2679/0918-402-9832.
(PIA CAR with Jamica Ragudo- SLU Intern)

About the Author

Jamie Joie Malingan

Regional Editor


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