HABITUALLY TOUCHING things like the floor and making sure that his toys were organized before going out were some of the certain compulsions that recent Behavioral Science (BES) graduate Heber O’Hara thought were normal in his life as a kid.
However, growing up, he realized that his “usual” was unusual to other people.
As he reached college, new compulsions due to consecutive life crises came such as making sure that he would sequentially check all the rooms before he left his house. This, piled with rapid and overwhelming thoughts, often made him tardy and mentally exhausted for class.
Knowing “the world will not adjust” for him, he tried to combat his compulsions and was able to conceal these from people around him.
“Sometimes, ‘yung touching the floor, ako tinatago ko. Kunwari nagtatali ako ng [sintas] ng sapatos.”
It was only shortly after graduation that he was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition he described as “compulsions, rituals […] na you feel na kailangan mo siyang gawin, because you feel na ‘pag hindi mo siya nagawa, […] something bad will happen to you.”
As Artlets like O’Hara lead fast-paced lives with heavy workloads, their mental health is brushed aside—often leaving red flags unnoticed.
In the face of stigma
An important advice O’Hara’s psychiatrist instilled in him is to have a relationship with his disorder. “You should not be enemies; you should not be angry with it (disorder). You should not be afraid of it; you should be at peace with it,” he said.
However, stigmas are crucial in the process of treatment and recovery, even before a person realizes arising psychological concerns.
Communication Arts junior and mental health advocate Aleia Anies emphasized ableism in language, specifically misusing and trivializing mental health-related terms like “retarded,” “bipolar,” “depressed,” “autistic,” “abnormal,” and “mongoloid.”
She also described the common way of upbringing in which children are not conditioned to learn and mind the reality and seriousness of mental health disorders.
“Parang sinasabi nila na kapag may sakit ka sa utak, ‘baliw ka,’ ‘ay, mamamatay-tao ‘yan.’ It’s so frustrating now kasi ‘yung mga bata, sasabihin nila, as early as eight years old, ‘pag nang-asar ‘yan, ‘ah abnormal ‘yan eh,’ ‘mongoloid,’ ‘autistic.’”
Assoc. Prof. Milagros Cortez-Arrevillaga, who teaches behavioral science, said stigma could also manifest when classmates talk about the concerned student once they learn that he or she is consulting a mental health professional, along with fear of vulnerability during counseling or consultation.
“In therapy, the person has to trust. May mga trust issue [sila] so vulnerability means like ‘Oh my god! I bare my soul to you.’ Fear of vulnerability kasi you have to open up everything,” she said.
Arrevillaga mentioned that these stigmas are factors as to why a student may hesitate to seek professional help.
Even in the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB), some Artlets are not conscious of mental health-related issues.
BES senior Michaela Gaw explained that while BES students understand the issues, the unawareness of other students may cause them to be incredulous of the reality of mental health problems.
On a similar note, both O’Hara and Anies’ families previously dismissed their conditions as trivial matters before they understood and provided full support.
“Of course, there’s the factor na minsan hindi na talaga naiintindihan ng mga tao, kahit sarili mong family. ‘Ano ka ba, tumigil ka nga,’ ganyan ganyan. […] Masakit ‘yun pero I learned na, ‘di ba, go with it,” O’Hara said.
Eventually, with the support of his family, he learned to strongly face and handle his OCD. “They even pushed me na ‘Oo, magpagamot ka. ‘Di ka dapat mahiya na naggagamot ka.”
However, not everyone with mental health conditions has the luxury to be diagnosed and regularly monitored.
The Philippines Statistics Authority reported that in 2010, one in five Filipino adults suffers from mental or psychiatric disorders, and for every 10,000 Filipinos, there are only five psychiatrists.
Also, bills like the Mental Health Act of 2016, aims to counter the stigmatization of mental health problems that often cause the violation of basic human rights of people with mental health problems.
As such, the University, alongside the Artlet community is compelled to partake in intensifying support and awareness on mental health that concerns all.
Lending a hand
With the onslaught of news about suicide cases among the youth, Gaw, also a mental health advocate, takes awareness and mental health education to a bigger platform—social media.
“Para sa’kin kasi, pinakaimportante talaga [is] education. So baka ang pinakamagagawa, i-educate mo ‘yung ibang tao about doon para ‘yung ibang tao din, maging aware.”
Likewise, Anies, who was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, uses her Twitter account to raise awareness and engage in discussions with other people.
“I have met so many people online na nangangailangan ng tulong and I feel like I was able to establish myself through this platform, na I’m someone na you can come talk to whenever you need help.”
As an institution catering to both the spiritual and physical health of students, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) has also initiated projects that promote mental health—as it is no stranger to cases of mental health concerns among students.
The UST Health Service (USTHS), and Career and Counseling Center have teamed up to discuss suicide with an outside psychiatrist. Moreover, the USTHS plans to give more mental health lectures besides those that Director Ma. Salve Olalia has selected to be held during each college week, USTHS Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Marinella Cruz shared.
Last Nov. 11, the University also collaborated with the Department of Health and the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation in promoting HOPELINE, a 24/7 counseling hotline for depression and other mental health concerns. HOPELINE also holds campus caravans to bring these issues closer to the students.
When the UST Guidance Counseling Department first opened in the 1950s, programs and services offered to students were geared towards adjustment to college. As times have changed, the services are modified to suit the evolving needs of the students.
Aside from their main counseling service, their programs concerning mental health include enrichment programs like seminars, training and orientation activities for students, class officers, faculty members and the administration.
AB Guidance Counselor Adesty Dulawan said they are in close coordination with other mental health professionals attending to some Artlets for therapy and medication, as AB also has a fair share of both reported and unreported cases of mental health problems among students.
An awareness program for AB faculty members also began last August to equip them with basic skills to know if a certain student would need counseling. Also, a Peer Counseling program gives students an opportunity to volunteer to act as extension arm of the guidance counselors.
Stressing the vital role of the faculty members, Asst. Prof. John Manuel Kliatchko, a licensed psychologist, said class advisers have an overarching requirement to monitor the “surface level” of their students’ psychological state.
He added that patterns of irregularities in the attendance of students and a short interest span could be signs of possible psychiatric conditions.
As student programs and services are cultivated, all are encouraged to reach out if they deem it necessary. However, at what point in having mental health concerns should a person actually seek professional help?
A Sociology senior, who requested anonymity, shared that he realized he was going through depression but did not seek professional help, mainly because he did not want his family to worry.
“Hindi ko na lang pinakita sa pamilya ko na parang nalulungkot ako; nagagawa ko pa rin ipakita ‘yung ngiti ko. […] Hindi ko kasi sinabi sa kanila ‘yung mga nangyari sa’kin. Ayoko kasi mag-worry ‘yung mommy ko,” he explained.
Cruz noted that students usually complain about mental health concerns that are triggered by academic and psychological stressors like separation from one’s family.
She added that a student should seek professional psychiatric help once biological needs such as sleep and food are compromised, and when the functionality of the student is negatively affected.
Arrevillaga added that disability, dysfunction or impairment in one or more areas of functioning such as self-care, personal hygiene, and interpersonal relations could also be red flags.
She added that other indicators can be seen at the cognitive level such as poor concentration, body indicators such as tremors, hallucinations, and delusions, with the last two as major indicators of psychosis.
Meanwhile, Dulawan advised students that they do not need to have any specific problem or mental health concern before reaching out.
“’Yung habang katabi mo pa lang ‘yung problema mo, we encourage them to really come [to us].”
On a different note, Anies noted that there are still occurrences wherein some people pronounce their support and awareness, yet do not know how to approach friends or loved ones who seek them for help or show signs of mental health concerns.
She urged Artlets to embody the “mental health warrior persona” in them and to educate everyone they know about the reality of mental health issues.
Anies added that those who hesitate to reach out need to fully accept that something is wrong with them and they need help. Ultimately, she encourages them that “if anyone whoever encounters this article reads this, sana ‘di na sila matakot.” F ALTON L. ESPERA and NAOMI GABRIELLE J. LORETO
HOPELINE hotline (for suicide prevention and emotional crisis)
0917558 HOPE 2919 (0917 558 4673 2919) for Globe subscribers
Department of Health
National Center for Mental Health
UST Counseling and Career Center
406-1611 local 8212/740-9720
located at Room 204, UST Health Service
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Flame’s second issue for the A.Y. 2016 to 2017.