Mental health became an even bigger topic during quarantine. Distanced from basic needs and sources of comfort, the pandemic gave rise to another public health crisis as we all took a collective hit on our well-beings. As the veil of security for many who were once comfortably detached from politics got lifted, these past months saw a number of mass protests. It’s been rough for a lot of us, to say the least.
For Talang Dalisay and its global network My State of Mind, the fight for mental health and social justice are one and the same. You can’t solve one without facing the other. Is the refusal to take part in political discourse really the best move for taking care of yourself? We talked with Talang Dalisay and My State of Mind director Margaret Lee about the deeper value of empathy in mental health.
Hi, Macy! Thanks for squeezing me in your schedule. First off, how are you? Apart from the difficulties that we’re facing during this pandemic, the United States and in the Philippines have politically charged atmospheres right now.
I’m personally doing good right now, just a bit worried with everything that’s going on in the world. I’m still staying in California and am residing with family in San Diego. And very true, there’s a lot going on in the United States and in the Philippines. I really hope people’s voices are heard and that justice will soon be served.
These past months have been hard on a lot of people for many reasons. I can imagine that you’ve been busy as the founder and executive director of Talang Dalisay and a co-director for My State of Mind. Can you introduce the organizations to our readers and share with us what the teams have been working on recently?
Sure! Talang Dalisay is a Philippine-based youth-led mental health organization. We’re over 250+ passionate individuals composed of a volunteer and executive team group. We make projects not only focusing on mental health but also with current events happening in the Philippines. We try to relate social issues and connect it back to the reason why mental health is so important. My State of Mind has the same goal, but on a more global scale. At the end of the day, Talang Dalisay and My State of Mind both aim to help youth find a safe space to heal and grow. I always ask myself, “How can I catalyze change within my team? How can I constantly check up on them?”
A lot of our recent activities have a lot to do with how everyone’s doing and also ways on how to get everyone else more productive with quarantine. At the moment, we’re doing all that we can to raise awareness on current events such as the Black Lives Matter movement and junking the Anti-Terrorism Bill.
How did you come up with the name Talang Dalisay? Can you take us back to where it all started?
I founded Talang Dalisay because I was inspired by my older brother who has autism. I wanted a platform where people would understand how important it was to create an environment of empathy in our ever-evolving world. I was a 15-year-old with hopes of creating an initiative. Talang Dalisay means pure star in Tagalog. I loved the words tala and dalisay, and found it a name that deeply resonates with children with disabilities.
What were the factors that helped you decide to turn something personal into your advocacy?
I wanted other people to know about it and I realized that they should. Mental health and autism are just so taboo back home. A part of turning my personal experiences into my advocacy was the dire need for awareness and education.
I understand that your organizations associate mental health with other issues. When did you start making those connections?
I’m personally very vocal about my opinions when it comes to social issues. I love getting involved in movements I believe benefit humankind. I started making these connections when I saw the fine line between adversity and mental health. Everything is connected to our mental well being, so I decided to integrate that in my organizations. It’s important to be aware of everything that’s going on around you. You may not know it, but all of these collective events have a profound effect on the way you think. People and places have an effect on your actions and you don’t even know it.
In the Solomon Asch experiment in 1935, he found that people conformed to the majority of what others thought and did even if it was wrong. This is human nature, so I found it important to make sure people agreed on what is right (even in my own sphere of influence).
As a member of the community yourself, can you tell us about mental health issues among the LGBTQ and what access to mental services means for them?
I think at this time it’s important for everyone to understand the history of the LGBTQ community with context on what’s happening right now. The first LGBTQ movement was a riot in New York City, led by catalyst and icon Marsha P. Johnson in the Stonewall Inn during the ’60s. Marsha was a transgender and gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen. She started the conversation on it’s okay to love who you love. A black woman started this. It’s amazing.
With pride month and the Black Lives Matter movement going on, it’s important to marinate on queer history. This definitely gave me perspective during this time.
I think mental health issues among LGBTQ (especially people of color) right now is just trying to comprehend everything that’s happening and keeping their head above the water. There are so many mental health services open to them—there are many organizations you can call or contact, as well as open lines in schools/universities. During this pressing time, communities are opening up more and more to instill love and care to those mentally affected. My State of Mind is open as well, we are always here for everyone. Feel free to reach out!
The LGBTQ community is one of the most wonderful groups of people I’ve come across in my life. I’m so lucky to have met so many people that have helped me grow and understand myself and others better. Check up on your friends and family—help is much closer to you than you think.
My State of Mind has branches across the globe. Can you share with us how you met your co-directors?
I met some of them in the Philippines, but some of them I met online! It’s great how you can connect with people on apps like Instagram. They’re great people, and I’m so lucky I was able to come across them.
How does Talang Dalisay and My State of Mind spread awareness for the advocacy? Can you share with us some of the activities that you’ve done in the past?
We use online content heavily; our social media accounts are very active. We also have a website and try to improve that constantly. Our projects are also very unique. I try to think out of the box when creating them.
In the past few years, we’ve had a T-shirt fundraiser where our members modeled them and the funds went to educate a special needs scholar. We also had a tennis fundraiser and my varsity team was able to help us out. It was so fun! We have online campaigns, an active blog and meet ups with our team. We also invite guest speakers.
Our other project was about our involvement with the government, specifically through YORP where we were able to pass bill ideas regarding mental health. We set up a whole Google form, got hundreds of responses from suggestions from high schoolers and college students. We proposed bills regarding increasing the number of counselors in schools, creating a mental health hotline, etc. Now we’re working with the DOH as a stakeholder in creating this hotline.
We also do a lot of collaborations with other non-profits, and have numerous initiatives with them as well.
During quarantine, mental health became much talked about. How much do you think we’ve progressed in terms of acknowledging that it’s a public health matter? What still has to be done?
It’s great that people are talking about it and I’m happy about that. I think it all starts with how we treat ourselves and the people around us. That aspect has been improving vastly, and it’s definitely better now than it has been in the past. However, I think what still has to be done is the integration of this conversation in schools. Hopefully, teachers talk about it more. It would also be great to get teachers to specialize in special education, or create a sector in public and private schools where they specifically help special needs kids. Mental health should also be integrated in curriculums. More classes regarding it. It should also be integrated in communities and hospitals, where more people can reach out and be vulnerable yet comfortable with their problems.
What’s next for Talang Dalisay and My State of Mind?
More movement. More growth. We recently rebranded to a whole new logo, and with this comes a whole new website as well. We’ll open more volunteer sign ups soon. We’ll be open to more open-ended projects and implement all these new ideas soon. As for My State of Mind, we’ll definitely be opening in more parts of the world, and I’m so hyped for that.