Mental Health Awareness in the Philippines

“It was really fortunate that she remembered to call me right before she tried to kill herself. Once I arrived at the venue, I simply embraced her until she stopped crying.”

Sister Nimfa recounts her experience with a single mother who was one cut away from taking her own life. As the director of Kahupayan Center, Inc. at Sto. Niño Parish Cebu, Sr. Nimfa Seranias, SSpS, has had her fair share of encounters with women with depression.

The center is a women’s counseling trained for psycho-spiritual healing. In confronting women who sought her help, Sr. Nimfa keeps the session light and casual. She asks how they are until they are comfortable enough to delve deeper into their concerns, “When it’s hard to open up in the first meeting, I let them do breathing exercises. They may not talk much then, but they are more open in the next session.”

The National Statistics Office (NSO) reported females were twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts as males, but males were slightly more likely to carry out on a suicidal act. The World Health Organization (WHO) states “16% Filipino students aged 13 to 15 contemplated suicide in the past year, while 13% actually attempted suicide.” WHO also notes, “Only one out of three who suffer from depression will seek help of a specialist.” The other one-third are not aware of their condition.

Inaccurate information dissemination on mental illnesses and the government’s lack of funding for proper Mental Health care have discouraged people with mental illness from seeking help. The stigma against mental illness has people believing the mentally ill are either: deranged beyond comprehension, or are over-dramatic individuals looking for attention.

A common sight in the Philippines is that of hobos and street beggars whose connection to society have long deteriorated. Their unproductivity in nation-building have made them the epitome of mental illness in society. Hence, the terms, “taong grasa” and “abnoy” have become nationwide labels targeted towards the mentally ill.

Consequentially, when seemingly reasonable and presentable family members bring up the concern of their mental health, particularly the youth, they are immediately dismissed, and are casually advised to get over their problems.

Stigma against people with mental illness is manifested by how they are seen as cases rather than persons. The generalized view of the mentally ill as violent creates negative notions about their condition, and the lack of love causes isolation. When other people start to make decisions for them, there is a feeling of helplessness and inability to take charge of their lives.

Locally, the Philippine Suicide Hotline 804-HOPE (4673) or “Hopeline” was established in Cebu by the Department of Health (DOH) with the Natasha Gouldbourn Foundation (NGF) in 2015. It’s a 24/7 hotline aiming to raise awareness on depression and connect callers to mental health professionals.

Sister Nimfa believes there are different approaches to different people. Although she is not entirely aware of the steps Cebu is taking regarding mental health, Sister Nimfa believes there are several organizations providing immediate help, but lacking exposure. She suggests they be advertised more often through flyers and formation training around the city.

Currently, there have been no recent discussions on the improvement or establishment of new mental health facilities in Cebu, but organizations and youth groups are actively taking part in raising awareness for Mental Health.

The #MHActNow is still open for discussion online and the Hopeline Project’s hotlines are also available and can be reached at (02) 804-HOPE (4673), and 2919 (toll-free number for all Globe and TM subscribers).