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Chronicles of mania

/ 05:26 AM October 13, 2017

I was 16 when I first picked up a copy of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation,” subtitled “Young and depressed in America.” At that time, it seemed marketable enough to a high schooler like me whose hormones and emotions were in free fall. Back then, “depression” was a word loosely used by everyone and glossed over by Hollywood celebrities on TMZ. It was a time when teens went emo and anxiety was romanticized by rock bands.

I snagged the hefty read and consumed it with tenacity, enamored both of Wurtzel’s prose and the vivid education on what depression is, who its victims are, and why we all should care.

Wurtzel described depression as “anything about dancing all night with a lampshade on your head and then going home and killing yourself,” and opined her “Prozac Nation” as “the United States of Depression.”

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I learned that amid all my angst, I am not depressed. Amid all my excitement, I am not manic. And yes, even in all my cleanliness, I am not obsessive-compulsive. There is a world of difference. In both its charming and haunting hues, I give credence to Wurtzel’s work for educating me about depression and the many facets of mental health.

This week marked the celebration of World Mental Health Day, observed every 10th of October by the World Health Organization. This year, more than two decades after its initial publication, Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation” is getting a re-release from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Between then and now, the tides have shifted quite a bit for mental health and all the stigmas associated with it. It has become a topic more openly discussed than it used to be years ago.

Nonetheless, by global standards there is still a huge space to fill with regard to embracing the issues surrounding mental health. Mental and substance use disorders remain the leading cause of disability worldwide, per WHO reports. Financial resources allotted for mental health are still modest, and the pervasive discrimination continuously pushes sufferers deeper into the shadows.

What is the current state of mental health in our own gleeful Philippines?

Plenty would relate if I say that in days past or even today, cases like schizophrenia are dismissed as a supernatural occurrence, multiple personality disorder as demonic possession, eating disorder as pag-iinarte, and bipolar disorder as “KSP” (kulang sa pansin or lacking in attention). In hushed tones and loud whispers sufferers are harshly dismissed as “batshit-crazy” or “loony-bin insane.”

Not to mention that those severely mentally ill are the stuff of urban legends and horror stories, or that we have steered clear of the directions of the people we’ve labeled as taong grasa. Even those with milder mental conditions we have quickly associated with violence and straitjackets. We use abnoy as a derogatory remark and use it abundantly. There is little to no tolerance for the mentally ill and clinically depressed in our tidy neighborhoods with all their religious ardor. Not in this era of
positive thinking.

But this does not mean that we have not made strides. When controversial statements were made by a noontime show host not too long ago, social media was quick to express its dismay, indicating a warming awareness of depression. As of this writing, the House of Representatives has approved the second reading of House Bill No. 6452, or the Comprehensive Mental Health Act. We have used technology to serve as bridge between the public and suicide prevention (804-HOPE) and emotional crisis. Mental health is no longer a Hollywood script. It has become our reality. If it affects a part of society, then it affects all of us. The solution is not only dependent on institutions. It lies within us.

On World Mental Health Day, #KeepGoing trended on Twitter with images of a semicolon from Project Semicolon, a movement that uses the punctuation mark as a symbol “used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to.” For some of us, today is another day. For others, it’s a willful decision to keep going. Here’s to you. We’re all rooting for your success. Keep going.

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michael.baylosis@gmail.com

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TAGS: Depression, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation, World Mental Health Day
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