Content warning: This article discusses mental illnesses and contains accounts of suicide attempts, suicide ideation and abuse.
Here’s a statement that shouldn’t be such a common thing to hear but has been uttered by so many of us, our loved ones and strangers far too many times: I want to die.
Something I was shocked to learn from my former psychiatrist is how suicide ideation is reason enough to warrant a visit to the ER. In an ideal world where mental health stigma doesn’t exist and affordable quality healthcare is a government priority, individuals facing mental illnesses would get the proper care they needed without neuro-typical folks recoiling at the mere idea. But in this world, we are forced to band together and learn from each other.
For Suicide Prevention Day, I had a chat with seven women about their mental health battles, their experiences with getting help from medical professionals and the most striking thing they learned in the process of learning self-love.
Mental health stigma still exists. I know from personal experience how hard it can be to admit that you need help. What or who convinced you to go to seek help from a therapist or psychiatrist?
Paula Salvosa, missionary pastor and founder of the MindLove Movement: I started feeling suicidal when I was 17 or 18. It was around that time when I first attempted to take my own life. I had two failed attempts, one in 2006 and another in 2007. And then when the “Amalayer” fiasco happened, I tried to end my agony again. (A video of Paula arguing with a security guard at a train station went viral in 2012 and she became the target of internet hate).
Afterward, someone invited me to church. I thought that being a Christian meant I would no longer have suicidal ideation. But it came back in 2018 when she was already a missionary preacher and a second-year seminary student.
Jean Galvez, college student: I liked depressing posts and quotes on Tumblr in high school. That’s where I first encountered the term depression. Constant suicide ideation pushed me to seek help because I knew it isn’t normal to always fantasize about killing yourself. On Facebook, the university health service on campus announced that they were going to have an in-house psychiatrist at their clinic and explained whom it catered for. When I saw it, I thought to myself, “I should go because I fit in that description.”
Cristelle Corpuz, forester and content writer: It was in college when I realized there was something “wrong.” There were days when I didn’t feel like functioning. Then, it got worse. I started feeling suicidal and couldn’t understand why. A friend recommended a psych whom I visited all by myself because I didn’t want to miss any more of my classes and training sessions. The first time around, I didn’t have to go to therapy much. Years later, I went to therapy again for a different reason.
I know from personal experience how hard it can be to admit that you need help. Did you feel reluctant at first to ask for help from a therapist/psychiatrist? Can you share with us the reason/s behind this?
Jean: Yes. I was unaware that mental health problems are real and legitimate illnesses. Back in high school, I had the tendency to downplay how I felt. The only outlet I had before college was my journal. It seemed weird to me how “emotions” could be treated the same way physical illnesses were treated.
Cristelle: No. The state of my mental health was taking a toll on my usual activities already. I was having a hard time trusting people and myself which just made me turn to bad coping mechanisms. I really wanted to help myself. Even when I found myself staring at the window of a 4-story apartment building, I knew I had reasons for wanting to be alive.
Mckaye: I had already planned on doing so for over a year. I just didn’t have the time before. I finally sought help because I couldn’t take the verbal abuse I faced at home anymore.
Jade Nadales, small business account specialist: The only reason I held back at first was because of the cost. But when the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) offered free counseling, I signed up right away.
Personally, it didn’t immediately get easier for me to deal with my mental health problems after going on sessions. It’s more along the lines of “a different kind of hard.” Was getting a diagnosis helpful for you? How?
Paula: For me, getting a diagnosis is a form of liberation. I got to know what precautionary measures I need to adhere to and the treatment plan I need to undergo in order to improve my quality of life.
Jean: I used to only take my medication whenever I felt depressed out of fear of being too dependent. After my psychiatrist enlightened me about its significance, I started taking my meds regularly and recognized its indispensability in managing my depression.
Jade: My psych told me that I was probably experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) because of the pandemic. The sessions did help but at the end of the day I felt like it was still up to me to fight what I was feeling.
Tricia Gajitos, reporter and vlogger: I believe everything has its perks and drawbacks. Being diagnosed made me aware of my condition and its do’s and the dont’s. However, I don’t think it’s something that you can claim or be proud of. Especially on my part, since I have to maintain a public image. I think there will always be reservations in every diagnosis.
Cristelle: It was helpful but getting diagnosed didn’t really fix things for me. It eased my mind because I used to blame myself for everything. Whatever drove me into that pit, it was caused by hormone imbalance and past events in my life that I didn’t realize traumatized me.
What’s the biggest misconception about getting therapy or psychiatric help?
Cristelle: That you’re crazy for doing so. I remember keeping my therapy sessions secret from my parents. I never told them because when I tried to open up, they just thought I was thinking too much and that maybe I was going crazy. Most Filipino parents think the same which makes it hard for someone to come forward when it should be normal to ask for help. Once, I asked my mom to go to therapy with me because I wanted her to understand but she hesitated and told me it was unnecessary. She still picked me up from one of my sessions though.
Mckaye: I remember one time I was having a panic attack and I was crying so much, my lola described me as “hysterical.” “Naghi-hysterical siya,” were her exact words. I was trying to express how I was feeling about a particular incident at home tapos kung anu-ano na yung sinabi nila sakin. Sobrang invalidated ako nun.
Pauline Malabanan, mental health advocate and human resource officer: Na ang nagpapacheck-up sa psychiatrist ay baliw at mayaman. I come from a low middle class family. My dad was the only one working sa family at the time. I worked three jobs para makatulong sa pang araw-araw na gastusin ko noong college. Ginapang ko rin para meron akong pampacheck up at pambili ng gamot. I am thankful for my friends kasi tinulungan nila ako noon financially. I’m not crazy. There are some stressors in life na mahirap i-manage and I hope we can respect how we have different capabilities when it comes to coping with them.
What’s the best advice that you got/the most striking thing that you learned from your therapist/psychiatrist?
Jean: It’s not selfish to love yourself.
Jade: The best advice I got for panic attacks and anxiety was to count and breathe. Whenever I get the sudden rush of negative emotions, I count very slowly and I breathe very slowly. It doesn’t always fix things but it lessens the blow.
Mckaye: Kung ano man yung pinagdaraanan ko, hindi basehan ang laki o liit ng mga bagay na yun at kung bakit yun issue sakin kung valid yun o hindi. Everything is valid.
Cristelle: After a traumatic experience from an abusive relationship, I often had sleep paralysis. They felt so real that I had to hurt myself to be able to tell if I was awake or not. My therapist told me that sometimes, dreams are just our subconscious trying to tell us something. She said that my nightmares show how scared I still am of that person. She reminded me of what I was capable of doing and she asked me to try running or playing sports again. I haven’t stopped since and I’ve never felt so strong, independent and capable.
Tricia: To be honest, I hated my psychiatrist. Because of how much I despised her, I’ve learned to be accountable and heal at my own pace. I will never forget when she said to me, “Lahat sila ayaw sayo. Ikaw talaga ang problema.” It hardened me, but it also motivated me towards growth and success. Our healing is on us, not dependent on others.
Here’s a question that a lot of people often ask: Does it get better?
Jade: Definitely! But I guess what people need to understand is that while IT WILL GET BETTER, sometimes it might become bad again. I guess what I’m trying to say is, what worked for me is just being patient with myself. If today’s good, then I’ll savor it. If tomorrow isn’t, then I’ll get through it. I give myself some credit for the good days and then I’m kinder to myself on the bad days.
Pauline: Don’t be afraid of the meds and your doctors. Don’t be afraid to communicate with your doctor kung anong nafifeel mo sa sessions and what the side effects your meds are. Sharing helps in disseminating information and breaking the stigma.
Jean: Some days I don’t believe it because of the continuing inaccessibility of mental healthcare in the country because of factors like the exorbitant cost of therapy sessions and medication, depression and anxiety-inducing social problems and underfunded public mental health facilities. I guess the silver lining in that situation is that there is a sense of solidarity created. We’re bound by united calls and struggles.
It’s World Suicide Prevention Day today. What message would you like to give to someone who’s having a rough time and perhaps thinking about suicide?
Jean: Sometimes, merely breathing can be the hardest thing to do when all you want to do is to stop breathing and existing anymore. I applaud you even if all you did just for today was to breathe. Thank you for still being here despite how much it hurts. Your presence makes a difference in this world.
Jade: Wouldn’t you like to at least see things through and maybe experience goodness in your life after all the bad? Di ka mag-isa, wala naman sa ating mag-isa. Minsan lang may mga laban tayo na sa atin lang and sana mapagtagumpayan mo yung sa ‘yo!
Tricia: We live in a dark and tragic world and the best way to fight pain is to learn to live with it.
Cristelle: As much as being independent brings out this badass in you, don’t be afraid to get help from people who are near you but remember that you can’t just trust anyone.
Paula: To you who have been told off saying that it’s just all in your head or dismissed your claims and downright told you that you lack faith, I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong.
Mckaye: I have had the same thoughts but it’s not the answer. I’m here if you need someone to talk to or I can just listen if you want. You can easily find my socials. I’m almost always ready and willing to listen.