Reducing Mental Health Stigma by Myra Gahid

Most Filipinos are conversationalists. In a typical scenario, when a Filipino is asked about how they’re doing, s/he reply with, “Okay lang ako. Ikaw, kamusta?” (I’m okay. How about you?”). This usual response seems to be programmed, nearly automatic, as a significant number of Filipinos still consider a discussion about mental health a taboo. The following responses from the society contribute to a person’s careful consideration about disclosing any information regarding his or her mental health status:

  • Nag-iinarte ka lang. (You’re just exaggerating or overreacting.)
  • Ang hina mo naman. (You’re weak.)
  • Kulang ka sa dasal. (You lack prayer.)
  • Hindi ka kasi naniniwala sa Diyos. (You don’t believe in God.)
  • Nasa isip mo lang ‘yan. (It’s just in your head; It’s all in your mind.)
  • Anong sasabihin ng ibang tao kapag nalaman nila? (What will other people say if they knew?)

Due to these statements, mental health stigma allows misinformation, lack of information, lack of awareness and openness to dominate. The fear or avoidance of talking about mental health leads to quick assumptions, judgments, and discrimination. Consequently, people with mental health concerns choose to be silent as they experience heightened levels of loneliness and isolation. Stigma is a major barrier in the recovery of mentally ill persons (Rivera & Antonio, 2017). In addition, Tuliao (2014) discussed that other cultural variables such as shame, stigma, and collectivist beliefs also discourage Filipinos from seeking help from mental health professionals.

Reducing the stigma towards mental health encourages a shift in perspective that allows a more inclusive and non-judgmental approach towards individuals who are willing but scared of seeking professional help. Based on a research done by Stuart (206), below are some ways to reduce the stigma of mental illness:

  • Awareness raising: designed to open a dialogue about mental health on the assumption that bringing it out of the shadow will improve social tolerance
  • Literacy programs: aim to improve knowledge about mental illnesses, their signs and symptoms, their treatments, and where to go to seek help
  • Protest: focused at the structural level, attempting to change organizational behaviors and practices
  • Advocacy: include awareness-raising, dissemination of information, education, training, mutual help, counselling, mediating, defending and denouncing which are aimed at inequities created by social structures
  • Social contact: communication with members of a stigmatized group to replace faulty perceptions and generalizations, and reduce prejudice and discrimination

If you feel like you need someone to talk to, mental health professionals are willing to help you. Keep in mind that there is no health without mental health. As Lisa Olivera said, “Just because no one else can heal or do your inner work for you doesn’t mean you can, should, or need, to do it alone.”

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