Let’s accept mental health
My daughter is a successful environmental scientist. She is also suffering from mental illness, but has fought it, and is winning.
A law has been passed, Republic Act No. 11036, or the Philippine Mental Health Act. High kudos to Congress and Secretary Francisco Duque of the Department of Health for this development. I’m turning over my column to my daughter today.
I was 25 when I was diagnosed. I hadn’t heard much about depression, other than the usual hyperbole you hear about how depressed people are when they don’t get what they want. I was so embarrassed that I told no one.
Growing up, mental health wasn’t so much taboo as an area of ignorance. Or so the naivete of my youth led me to believe.
I was 30 by the time I was ready to let anyone know. And, even then, only because it had gotten so bad that I was not sure I could have hid it if I tried. So I told my loved ones and lined up a psychiatrist. But mostly, I was just lucky.
I am incredibly grateful that I was lucky enough to be born into a family that enabled me no end of opportunities and access—to information, to exposure to other cultures, to the means to pay for it all. Not everyone can say the same. In the case of the Philippines, where poverty is the rule and not the exception, this is especially true.
Knowing this, I breathed a long, deep sigh of relief when I heard that the Mental Health Act was finally passed.
Not because I am (still) naive enough to think that passing a law changes anything. I work in the environment field; I know firsthand that strong laws mean nothing without a stronger implementation arm and the all too rare political will. But the law provides the opportunity to start a conversation—106 million conversations.
Yes, access to treatment and medication are imperative to wellness. And I hope that the law takes the steps to ensure that these things do not remain words on a piece of paper filed away somewhere. I would love to see the Philippines treat mental health just like “physical health”—and then up our game on both significantly, by taking education and prevention seriously and providing every support we can to those with cancer, depression, psoriasis or schizophrenia equally.
I dream of a day where health is a hot topic in classrooms across the county, and meditation is a crucial skill taught to our youth. I crave the time that free psychiatric care and subsidized medication are a reality.
Ah, but there is that word—reality. And, alas, I must pull myself back into it.
In reality, we take baby steps. So here is my contribution to one of those tiny advances forward: Hi, I’m Nikki. I live with clinical depression and anxiety. I am NOT depressed. Nor am I fighting depression or suffering from anxiety. This is an illness I have, perhaps will always have. But it does not define me. I am a huge cornucopia of strengths and flaws. I am a reflection of the incredible people around me. I am a product of my experiences. I am many, many things; but I am not my mental illness.
I open myself up to tell you this in hopes that it is the pebble that causes ripples across the lake. That it encourages you to talk about mental health without judgment, and tear down the walls you’ve been hiding behind. That you start to question your belief that mental health is a sign of weakness, and allow yourself to be curious to learn more; to listen.
I tried to publish a version of this column five years ago. I was talked out of it. Maybe the Philippines wasn’t ready yet. Perhaps my circle of loved ones wasn’t. Regardless, the fact you are reading this is
evidence that progress is being made.
Let’s keep pushing those boundaries. Let’s take the platform this law provides and make some noise. It doesn’t have to be terribly loud. Whisper to your best friend how scared you are. Ask your wife if she ever feels like she’s drowning in a sea of gray, all the while feeling safe that you will not be labeled and judged.
Because, while legislation is strong and implementation is stronger, nothing beats love. Ever.
Whether you think you may have a mental illness or you support someone who does, you are not alone. And if the only thing this law ever succeeds in doing is allowing you to start the conversation that opens your eyes to see you are loved so much that you can talk about the pain without shame, then that will be enough.
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