Health & Wellness

In Focus: What Is Mental Health To Begin With?

In Focus: What Is Mental Health To Begin With?

By Jarvin Enosh Tan
Edited by Alyannah Lagasca

Jarvin and Alyannah are members of the Youth For Mental Health Coalition, Inc., an organization that advocates for mental health consciousness among the Filipino youth and aims to end the stigma on mental illness.

Until recent years, the prevailing perceptions that came with mental health included "baliw", “hiya”, “abnoy”, "may sayad", "kulang sa pansin (KSP)", "kaartehan", and "gawa-gawa lang", along with thoughts of straitjackets, padded walls, and violence and aggression. For people living in communities far from the big cities, there is even the sad reality of loved ones locked in cell-like rooms or even caged because families don't know what to do or where to go for help. In addition, poor portrayal on traditional media coupled with beliefs on “lack of faith” only serve to worsen the stigma.

Fortunately, the discourse on mental health has been elevated beyond conventional myths and structural stigma, and it is equally as pressing we tackle this issue now that these once-hidden problems are slowly coming to light. The World Health Organization's data on national suicide rates show an increase from 2.9 per 100,000 people in 2012 to 3.8 per 100,000 people in 2015, which is a lot considering the only acceptable figure for this statistic is zero. What is even more alarming is having suicide as the 2nd leading cause of death in the 15-29 age group globally.

The 2015 National Youth Assessment by the National Youth Commission highlights this further in a local context in its survey of Filipinos aged 15-30, finding that 26% thought at least once that life was not worth living, 14% had some form of suicidal ideation and engaged in steps to push through with it, and 20% experienced extreme emotional distress.

The 2015 Global Burden of Disease Study puts clinical depression and anxiety as the 6th and 10th leading cause of disease burden in the Philippines, respectively. And yet, with all this, data is severely lacking to make informed decisions on policies and programs on mental health. Existing data systems, like the Philippine Health Information System on Mental Health Conditions, are good for highlighting the burden of specific mental health conditions in specific contexts, like schizophrenia in hospitals, but it still can’t be generalized to the entire Philippines, especially in the community setting.

But what is mental health to begin with? Do we list down clinical depression, anxiety, suicide, and other mental health conditions to define mental health? In the same way, physical health is not diabetes, hypertension, or cancer, or altogether but goes beyond them to include a proper diet and exercise. Mental health is not just the absence of disorders. To put it simply, it's a state of wellbeing where you can cope with the things life throws at you – thrown at everyone. With that definition, it becomes easier to see mental health as vital to all of us as a basic fundamental right and an essential component of health that cuts across sectors.

It is important that people with mental health conditions have regular access to professional mental health services. At the same time, we also do not want to wait until excessive environmental stressors worsen to the point that they will need help. We can and should start early with age-appropriate education on mental health and well-crafted policies in schools that will go a long way in ensuring a mentally-healthy next generation of youth. These policies would encompass a whole-school approach and work toward boost protective factors like good social support and family ties while stamping out risk factors like discrimination and bullying.

Even beyond the four corners of the classroom, another set of problems awaits at workplaces. Employees at all levels have to deal with increasing workload and low levels of support while health and safety policies are inadequate, all while insurance companies do not cover or sometimes even explicitly discriminate against covering expenses for mental health services. Recent articles have even highlighted discrimination on the level of hiring, where people may not be accepted for a job simply for disclosing their mental health condition or history of seeking help from a professional.

Last June 20th, the Mental Health Bill has been signed into law. Read the RA 11036 here:

ALSO READ: In Focus: 5 Ways YOU Can Take Part In The Fight For Mental Health

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