By Daniel Baysa
Chalk Campus Correspondent
Last June 21, 2018 President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Philippine Mental Health Bill. After over 17 years of attempts and no less than 36 revisions, a bill promoting widespread, high-quality mental health for our country has finally been passed! Advocates from all over the country banded together to get the bill passed, including government officials, health specialists, as well as the youth.
The day after the passing of said law, a press conference was held by the office of Senator Risa Hontiveros, the author and principal author of the bill, where health professionals and youth advocates were present to shed more light on this game-changing legislation move.
In the panel were PJ Tanglao, a 19-year-old student leader from the University of Santo Tomas who is within the autism spectrum and diagnosed with depression when he was 17, and Hya Bendana, the president of the student council of Ateneo de Manila University. Here, we collate their insights on how WE can continue the fight for mental health in support of the newly passed Mental Health Law.
1. Be informed.
You can’t do much without knowing much! Read up on the Mental Health Law as well as mental health itself such as warning signs for mental illness, events and programs in your area that advocate this cause, and other forms of information to keep up with the conversation and to find ways to contribute. You will discover mistaken ideas and misconceptions there, too. “One of the biggest problems that faced and will still be ahead of this bill is cultural, or the cultural perceptions of mental illness,” explained PJ. Examples include seeing depression as just sadness or simply a problem of the rich. Changing what is wrong is just as important as knowing what is right. Throw away old misconceptions nd encourage others to do the same.
2. Share what you learned.
Knowledge is power, and if more people have it, then more can be done. Spread the word on what you continuously learn in whatever manner you can through social media or simply by having insightful discussion with the people around you. “The youth can actually just help out by making the society more aware, by making mental health part of the national conversation,” PJ reiterates.
3. Join movements and organizations.
The bill didn’t come about on its own. There are many people willing to support mental health, and if you're one of them, you can join groups like Youth for Mental Health (Y4MH) which spread the word about mental health and volunteer for the movement. You can become part of your student councils or your Sanggunian Kabataan to help bring concrete changes to your school or your barangay. “With the tandem of the student councils and the Sanggunian Kabataan, I think the youth force can be more proactive in forwarding mental health services in their localities,” Hya shares. If there's no organization within your circle, you can even form your own group!
4. Spend less time on screens and more time with people.
Our digital society today allows us to keep up to date with the latest and contact friends and family anytime, anywhere. But what happens if we neglect interacting with people? “If you notice, thanks to social media and technology, we are not really talking with each other,” warns Hya. Spending so much time on social media can cause us to lose sight of what is right in front of us, the people close to us, those that truly matter. Therefore, connecting through actual face-to-face conversations may go a long way! Just the simple act of putting down the phone during dinner will do wonders for improving our connection with those who need it the most.
5. Reach out to others.
When it comes to mental health illness, the best way of helping people is just trying to be there for them. Whether in class, in orgs, or even in a bar, students are able to interact with their friends in places, times, and ways no one else can. The youth often open up more with their peers, showing more of themselves. “Even an ordinary person can have a sense when someone is going through hard times,” explains Psychological Association of the Philippines’ Dr. Violeta Bautista who was also present at the presscon. A simple hello or casual chat can make a huge difference. It may even save a life!
According to the World Health Organization, everyday, one in five Filipino adults suffer from mental health problems, and one in seven commit suicide. Relying on the law is not enough. We all have a role to play. “More than anyone else, I think this is the youth’s advocacy,” concludes Hya. “They were the ones who truly started this, and were a turning point in getting it passed.” This initiative is what helps improve lives and fight each of our own inner battles.
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