Five Things to Know about the Philippine Mental Health Community

Cover art Samantha Gonzales

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The Philippines is becoming more and more woke about mental health. There have been several events and activities relating to mental health awareness, resources being circulated online, and even the passage of the Philippine Mental Health Law underway (with the third and final reading set today, November 20, 2017). Behind this milestone is the collective effort of the incredibly diverse Philippine mental health community.

Here are five things to know about them:

1. It’s composed of several organizations

It’s near‑impossible to pin down the entire community, especially since not everyone who advocates for mental health awareness is part of an organization. However, there are known organizations, as well as smaller‑scale organizations—and they all have different ideas of how to go about spreading awareness and offering support in the Philippines.

Among the better‑known organizations are Mental Health PH, Buhay Community, Anxiety and Depression Philippines and Youth for Mental Health Coalition (Y4MH). Y4MH is one of the biggest and most well‑known organizations, being the first SEC‑registered mental health org. Chairman RJ Naguit points out that they work towards large‑scale projects “such as policy‑making, awareness raising, and even service delivery while engaging similar‑minded organizations and institutions.”




Another organization, Tala Mental Wellness, may be comparatively smaller in scale, but they firmly believe in the angle their organization takes. Tala’s head, Eugenie Huibonhoa believes that “the Philippine conversation on mental health has been unable to include those from marginalized sectors. Tala attracts people who would like to diversify the conversation, who would like to take concrete steps beyond awareness. We are a small group, but I think, slowly but surely, we are able to give people a medium [with] which they can do this.” An exhaustive list of mental health organizations and advocacies, along with other mental health resources, can be found over here.

2. Some of your faves are part of the mental health community

Miss International 2016 Winner Kylie Verzosa is known to be a mental health advocate, having shared her story of being diagnosed with depression and put up her own advocacy page and support group on Facebook. Actress Antoinette Taus is also very vocal about her own journey with depression, using her clout to spread awareness on the importance of mental health, as well as the need for a mental health law.

Even Maine Mendoza is lauded as an advocate, as she spoke up when Joey De Leon infamously called depression “gawa‑gawa lang” (“made up”) on national TV, quickly correcting him that the condition is not a joke. “Siyempre, maraming nakakaranas ng ganun lalo na sa mga kabataan, kaya dapat pag may nakakaranas ng ganun, kailangan nating bigyan ng suporta.” (“Of course, a lot of people go through it especially the youth, so we need to support them.”)

The Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA)’s two advocacy videos for the mental health act also featured several celebrity advocates: one featured the likes of Rico Blanco, Mae “Juana Change” Paner and Cheche Lazaro, and the other had Ian Veneracion, Jasmine Curtis‑Smith and Agot Isidro, among others. In the videos, they urge viewers to sign the petition urging for a Philippine mental health act—and it looks like all their efforts have paid off.

3. People in the community come from all walks of life

Contrary to how it may seem, it’s not all just twenty‑something millennials from Metro Manila—especially when it comes to online support groups. The internet has made it possible for people from all regions and age groups to join online support groups with a single click, provided that they play nice and follow their respective group’s rules.

Y4MH in particular has been working on electing regional heads in the three island groups, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. They have also successfully held a National Youth Congress in cooperation with the Department of Health, where delegates flew in from Visayas and Mindanao to participate.

One particularly inspiring story is that of Macy Lee, an 11th grader and the founder of a new organization called Talang Dalisay, which focuses on reaching out to the youth, specifically to high school and college students. She was inspired by her brother with autism and supported by her mother, in putting up her own effort towards mental health awareness.

Despite being only 16, she has been a delegate the Harvard Model Congress and the aforementioned National Youth Congress, as well as a participant in various mental health‑related events through Talang Dalisay.

4. The community is collaborative in nature

Despite differences in approach and personal context, all mental health awareness groups aim for one thing: that is, the recognition of mental health issues. Translating that into policy and action is not a feat for a singular organization.

Huibonhoa notes that each part of the community has their own experience with mental health, but that in itself can be a hurdle: “Because of the different ways people cope with mental illness or take care of their mental health, it becomes difficult to share the message. Many people from different communities would like to talk about the context of mental health solely from their experience.” Thus, there is a need for open discourse and collaboration.

For instance, events and activities are usually spearheaded by one mental health organization, but with the partnership and cooperation of one or more others. There have also been planned gatherings and petitions to campaign for the passage of the mental health bill. However, these are still mostly done by the bigger orgs.

What most individuals and organizations can do, though, is use the internet as a means to engage and educate others (e.g. posting openly about one’s condition to reduce stigma), as well as gather data about what can be done (e.g. surveying people via social media) to alleviate local mental health issues.

Though this proclivity for collaboration isn’t constrained between mental health orgs alone, the movement must also spread to sectors that may not be as aware. Buhay Movement co‑founder and executive director Valene Lagunzad says that their group makes sure to spread awareness in church communities by reducing stigma and through empathy, kindness, and listening. “Right now, I am doing my best to make people understand that mental health and spiritual well‑being should work together,” she said, adding that her group recently conferred with organizations such as Where is Hope, Light of Jesus Counseling and True Love Waits.

5. There’s still a long way to go

As promising as the mental health scene may be from certain perspectives, it’s still very young— our several different voices may make it difficult for the point to get across, and the movement is not immune to conflicts or misunderstandings. Huibonhoa says, “It has only been recently that we have really been talking about the problem out in the open. Because of this, we still are struggling to come up with a concrete movement. There are still so many misunderstandings and differences that need to be addressed when it comes to talking about mental health. Advocacies are competitive rather than supportive. We still have not been able to find a real solid voice that makes the gravity of the issue as clear as it should be. We still have a long way to go, but I’m proud that at the very least, we are definitely moving towards a sense of urgency and respect towards sharing the importance of mental health.”

There is also the stigma that mental health conditions are “pang‑mayaman lang” (for the rich only)—which stems from a very real issue that only the middle to upper classes can afford mental healthcare. Naguit expresses his concerns towards effectively communicating the importance of mental health, as well as its concepts, to marginalized communities: “We have to go beyond our circles and really reach out to the communities where there are only limited opportunities for mental health education. If we want to cure the stigma, we might need to refocus our efforts on the bigger chunk of the population.”

Not every individual or organization has the resources necessary for such an effort. But there is the hope that once the Philippine Mental Health Law’s regulations are successfully implemented and the community has gathered its bearings, professionals and advocates alike can collaborate to address mental health concerns in all sectors.


For those interested in advocating for mental health awareness but unsure how to start, Naguit reassures that there are different ways to do so: “Choosing one way should not, in any way, invalidate how other advocates fight for mental health. Know what way of advocating you are most comfortable with, and are really good at, and find the organization that can best nurture that passion. Be with the organization that also leads to personal growth and fulfillment and, as cliché as it may sound, you’ll never work a day.”

Huibonhoa adds that if joining a mental health organization is not for you, there is one major thing you can do: “Study. Stigma is our biggest problem now. It is what is standing in the way of many solvable problems when it comes to mental health. Keep yourself informed, and do your part in guarding society from illogical prejudice and unnecessary suffering.”

No matter your location, background or age, Lee advises that you take advantage of the opportunities presented to you in your immediate surroundings, like school or social media: “People my age can take part in organizations, events and they can apply mental health‑related topics in their school or student council projects.

They can create programs to help mental health awareness in the country through their extracurricular activities. They can even use social media as a tool to simply post quotes or stories of people, to inspire others on the importance of mental health in the country. The possibilities are endless!”