“[Stigma] can also be connected with empowerment and inspiration”
– Mari Mendoza, Tayo ; Tayo
Tayo ; Tayo is a mental health advocacy project based in the Philippines. With Project Semi Colon being one of their main influencers, Tayo ; Tayo launched their own line of t-shirts, aimed at spreading awareness of depression and suicide.
In the following interview, I ask three members – Timothy, Mari and Cedric – questions surrounding their understanding of and response to stigma, as well as their own advice for those struggling with mental health.
I am Timothy John Alimorong, a B.S. Psychology Graduate. My connection to mental health started when I was very young, when some members of my family were diagnosed with different psychological disorders. These concepts were tackled and understood further when I took up Psychology and studied them more.
My drive to learn more about mental health is because of the fact that these topics are not being discussed enough. Especially in the Philippines, the stigma of mental health is becoming more and more involved in describing some individuals negatively.
I personally aim to create a just and fair world wherein people with psychological issues are treated the same with no special treatment whatsoever. I also aim to contribute to spreading love and hope to those that have felt inadequate and alone.
I am part of a project called Tayo; Tayo Project: which aims to spread awareness and strengthen the concept of battling mental health stigmas, promoting awareness and knowledge about depression and suicide prevention. Our medium is shirts with minimalistic designs with a big impact.
My name is Mari Mendoza, a B.S. Psychology graduate from University of Santo Tomas. During college, I became aware and knowledgeable of what mental health is and how it affects people. I learned more about how real and deep depression, anxiety and other mental disorders are, and to recognize the symptoms and therapies to help out people diagnosed with mental disorders. But aside from the terminologies and theories found in the books, I was able to experience depression in real life, not with me, but with a family member. Yes, it is challenging and difficult, but if there was one thing I really learned from college on how to help a person with depression, it was to be there for him.
This was the primary reason why I joined Tayo; Tayo Project. Together with my friends in college, we decided to create a movement that would inspire others to raise awareness that mental health illnesses are real. We want to show people that there is always hope and second chances. We want to reach out to the hearts of the people; we want to show people with mental disorders that there will always be people who will understand and care for them and for those without, to reach out, spend time, and be there for them.
My name is Cedric Lee and I am a proud graduate of B.S. Psychology from the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas. I am connected to mental health as everyone is. This keeps us sane and being able to function on a daily basis. The implementation of the Philippine Mental Health Act will serve as a key in opening the doors for the people afraid to seek help because of the eradicating stigma we have here. This key will also lock the stigma away forever and make our world a better place.
What does stigma mean to you? How has it affected you?
Mari: Most of the time, stigma is associated with discrimination and stereotypes. On the other hand, I strongly believe it can also be connected with empowerment and inspiration. People tend to believe something that most people believe in even without knowing and studying it, especially regarding mental health. It has affected me because whenever faced with a negative stigma, I am challenged to encourage people not to see it that way and instead, inspire others to help people with mental health illnesses.
What are the most common mental health stigmas you have come across? Which ones hurt or irritate you most?
Timothy: The most common one I’ve come across is the stigma that people with mental illnesses are incapable of doing the same regular work “normal” people do. It irritates me because people are often too quick to judge and stand by the stigma without seeing the actual potential of the individual and they are easily swayed by hearsay.
Cedric: The mental health stigma that bothers me the most are in movies that exaggerate mental health conditions. Most of the time, the setup would be the protagonist of the movie has a mental condition manifesting in exaggerated behaviours. This won’t help end stigma but rather reinforce it. Directors should be sensitive in using characters with mental conditions in their movies.
Many people feel shame in struggling with mental illness. How can we help combat those feelings of shame?
Timothy: We can help them by participating in events that empower them and we can wear supportive shirts that can make them feel that they are part of something much greater.
Mari: We should treat them the same way we treat other people, without having the thought of them being “different” or “not normal.”
Cedric: We should be there for them. We should make them feel that in this battle they are not alone. That there is no reason to be ashamed of what they are going through. It’s not their fault that their brains are wired differently. They may be different but aren’t we all? We are still human beings and we should look out for each other.
What would you say is the best way to spread mental health awareness?
Timothy: The best way is to collaborate with all the groups fighting the same fight and create programs together. When people see the unity of these groups, they tend to be influenced more, thus creating a much bigger community.
Mari: For me, the best way to spread this awareness is minimizing negative stigma. We should start studying and knowing more about mental illnesses in order to understand that this is real and should be attended to. People should accept the fact that others are really experiencing this and from there, there could be a warm and accepting environment.
Cedric: We can use social media in spreading awareness but be sure to provide all the correct information to the world. Educating people by adding mental health in the curricular in schools would be helpful, and support projects that has this same advocacy.
Who are your role models in the field of mental health?
Timothy: If there is one team that we look up to, it’s the Project Semi Colon. The people behind it are downright amazing, direct and very impactful.
Mari: Our role models in this field of mental health would be the psychologists and psychiatrists, who have endless compassion and love to help out people with mental health illnesses and unending effort to research more efficient therapies for them. But for me, my role models are also those people who are aware of the ongoing issue and trying to make a difference.
What are your favourite or most memorable mental health campaigns?
Timothy: The recent movement to pass the Mental Health Bill in the Philippines is the most memorable one because it was a landslide decision with no one contradicting the passage. It was one of the key events of Year 2017 for the Philippines.
The conversation on mental health has come a long way, but there’s still a lot more to do. How do you suggest we can best move forwards?
Timothy: We can start by accepting and making do with what we have currently, we need to make sure that the trend or position does not waver despite criticisms and the like. We need to also mind all these factors as we move up, and then improve along the way.
Cedric: It’s really up to the government officials on how we can expedite things… But as an individual, I can help this to move forward by doing my part. That part is to educate all the people around about mental health and let them know that this is a serious matter.
How do you suggest one can provide helpful support to someone struggling with mental health problems?
Timothy: Do not pity them, instead encourage them through their own strengths. Have them fight their battles with smiles and happy hearts.
Mari: Being there for them, talking and listening to them, spending time with them, give encouraging and positive statements. These small actions have a big impact.
Cedric: Practice active listening because it’s a big help to be there for that person. If you think you can’t handle what the person is going through, don’t hesitate to seek for professional help.
What advice might you give to someone struggling with their mental health?
Timothy: Do not forget to speak up, reach out, and let your stresses be known. Being in touch with a friend or family is always the strongest element in coping up with negative thoughts and feelings. Do not feel less than what they really are in value. We are all strong and weak in our own ways, no one is better than the other.