The most influential person in my life is my mom. She has taught me directly and indirectly how to live as a strong, independent woman. Talking to her — or warning her — about starting a blog on mental health, with emphasis on the stigma of it within the Filipino community, was terrifying.
“Don’t air your dirty laundry,” she reminded me again, like she had several times in the past.
For the uninformed, it is absolutely culturally unacceptable to talk about your struggles especially mental health in the Filipino culture. Many people think you’re “crazy” if you go to a therapist or psychiatrist. It is a shame upon your family if anything is “wrong with you.” Thus, you don’t talk about it and shove it all down.
Always a happy face
Growing up, my mom taught us to put on our “happy face” no matter the circumstance. We should tell people everything was good even when it wasn’t.
And, you know what? I don’t blame my mom at all for teaching us this emotional defense mechanism, as it has helped me cope with difficult situations throughout my life.
Seven months after I gave birth to my son (the last of my five children), I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I shared the news with my mom and in-laws. I knew, at the time, I needed their support and acceptance of this diagnosis to get better. Sadly instead of supportive statements and empathy, there were several questions about if these feelings were “all just in my head,” to just “be happy,” and if medication was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, as the years have passed, both sets of parents are becoming more accepting of my diagnosis.
This initial reaction from both sets of my parents, actually isn’t far from what I found in a qualitative study by BMC Psychiatry:
While bayanihan (helping one another in the time of need), is a huge part of Filipino culture, mental health is the exception. Those with mental health issues are often mocked, laughed at, ostracized, or conceal their feelings in fear of dishonoring their family.
Changing the narrative
I would like to change the narrative, starting with this blog. I want to help those suffering in silence, shame, and fear. These struggles do not need to be one person’s burden to carry. We Filipinos must extent the bayanihan spirit no matter the circumstance, specifically in mental health.
I hope you join me on this journey to break the silence and eliminate the stigma of mental health in the Filipino community.
Have you experience the same reaction? Comment or share this with someone who has.
Just know – its ok to not be ok, tomorrow is a new day! See you next week.