“There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it.’ Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.” – Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees
June 2018 was a month of triumph in the Philippines for mental health awareness. The president signed the Philippine Mental Health Law, or Republic Act 11036. This law aims to make it easier to access mental health care in ways like raising mental health awareness through education and providing mental health services to the society, starting from the barangay level. The barangay is the smallest administrative division in my country.
Despite my opinion of our president, I do know when to acknowledge that he has done a good job. This law is one of them. I also commend the authors of the law for the hard work that they have put into it. It’s time we acknowledged that mental health is important in our overall well-being.
Where I work, they are also pushing to raise awareness on the company’s efforts to help employees dealing with mental health concerns. We had a representative from the healthcare department discuss the services available in our clinic to help us cope or deal. They showed a video presentation on how managers can detect and help employees who might be undergoing mental health concerns.
In the said video, the female employee was not her usual self. Her manager got her to open up even just a little and she did reveal that she was having problems with her boyfriend. To this statement, a colleague made a remark that went along the lines of “boyfriend lang pala, mental health issue na (just a boyfriend issue and it’s a mental health issue already).” I don’t know from whom it came because I think the person was not from the same aisle I was seated. All I know is that some people laughed at that remark.
Just one statement. They already judged the issue as petty and not worthy of being categorized as a mental health issue. This is exactly why people undergoing depression and anxiety find it difficult to open up about their condition. People judge without listening to the whole story.
What if the boyfriend was being too possessive and controlling to the point that she is treated like property? What if the boyfriend was insecure of her success and so, he makes her feel like she’s not worth anything? What if he was pushing her to do things she is unwilling to do? What if he beats her and hurts her in places where bruises won’t be visible to others? The possibilities are endless! The lady was only starting to open up. Of course she would start in the shortest way possible to explain what she’s going through. Details will come later.
Okay, benefit of the doubt. Maybe the person is someone who thinks out loud and that was just an initial thought that was leaning more towards wondering than judging. After all, we all have our own tones and manner of saying things. Still, it is important that when we deal with mental health issues of family, friends, colleagues or just about anyone who happened to be opening up to us, we put focus on listening rather than anticipating what will be said next or judging every word/sentence that will be uttered. We need to have a view of the bigger picture first before we say anything because people who are undergoing depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions may be pushed down further into their condition when we behave so carelessly and dismissive of their feelings.
Stop hiding behind #JustSaying or #RealityTalk or #JustBeingHonest to excuse lack of tact. Lady Gaga says in her song, “‘Til it happens to you, you won’t know how I feel.” But even then, there’s a huge chance that we’ll react differently.
We must not judge the gravity of the problems of other people based on our own metrics and standards. What is petty to you may be tremendously big of a deal to others. Similarly, what may be petty to others may mean the world to you. We all come from different backgrounds, different upbringing, and different experiences. We cannot judge a problem to be petty until we have been in their shoes. Let us be empathic and listen to understand and feel where they are coming from.
We still have a long way to go for people to be more open-minded about mental health. In the meantime, let us be careful when throwing around the words depressed, anxious, bi-polar, schizo and other mental health conditions. In this age of social media, these are sometimes used to describe situations that are actually very far from their real context. So, people start thinking that these are minor issues only and just part of acting up, seeking attention or being melodramatic. Let these words be used for what they should be used for.