On mental health

By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo July 21,2017 - 09:33 PM


The back-to-back news of young people committing suicide — while utilizing Facebook as a tool to tell the world of what they are about to do — had me awake until the wee hours of the morning despite the long work hours I have been subjected to in the last two weeks.

I am in the city of Xiamen (known as Amoy among overseas Chinese), which is the last stop of this eight-day Journalism and Media Convergence Workshop spearheaded by the Communication University of China.

I came from an interesting tour of Gulangyu Island, recently recognized as a Unesco world heritage site, which Consul General Julius Caesar Flores of the Philippine Consulate General in Xiamen described as “a gem of Amoy art deco featuring a fusion of Western, Eastern and Hokkien.”

Unlike its busier sister Beijing with more than 21.5 million urban population, Xiamen only has four million people living in a city adjudged as one of China’s most livable cities.

The local people remind me of the Filipino-Chinese community and the officials of the chambers of commerce back in Cebu. They reminded us about the sister-city agreement between Cebu and Xiamen which was signed more than 30 years ago.

Interestingly, our English-speaking Chinese guide named Mason noted that Xiamen’s status as one of the most livable cities in China also means very few unhappy people, bringing down the number of suicide cases in the city.

Suicide is no small news item. It cannot be brushed off and forgotten until another suicide incident comes into full picture because it is reported by the media.

When I was battling depression two years ago, I found solace in reading stories of other people’s experiences. It somehow comforted me that I’m not alone, that there are people around the world who understand what I’m going through.

But it’s not easy.

It can never be easy.

The line “I got depressed” is repeatedly abused even when the person is not really depressed.

Perhaps that’s why we, as a society, do not take mental health issues as a serious illness. We don’t look at it as a disease such as tuberculosis and cancer. We look at it as a phase that a person goes though (like adolescence) and that you can just order a person to “snap out of it.”

Mental health issues are not openly discussed in our society. There’s a stigma that goes with coming out as a person who has or had mental health challenges. You’re labeled as “buang” (crazy) or “kuwang-kuwang” (lacks mental soundness). Worse, there are people who will define you based on this disability.

But I refuse to sit down and do nothing about this. I refuse to let my children grow up in a society which seems to be passive about this issue. I refuse to be silent and wait for another suicide case to surface on my Facebook news feed.

This is why I invite anyone who reads this column to join me and my good friend Lis Baumgart on July 27 (Thursday) at around 7:00 p.m. at the PhiloSophia Library Café to discuss ways on how we can disrupt status quo and share ways on how we can be helpful to people who may be suffering from any mental health disease. Please e-mail me if you’re interested to join us or reach me through my Facebook page.

* * *

Ten years ago, I became part of the search of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP) representing the University of the Philippines Cebu College. It was through TOSP that I met 19 student leaders from Cebu, Dumaguete and Bohol whose academic performance, leadership skills and community service inspired me to be a better version of my 20-year-old self and do what I can in my own sphere of influence.

The regional search in Central Visayas was held in Dumaguete City where I made it as one of the 10 outstanding students of Central Visayas. The award gave me the ticket to be part of the national search, and it was the TOSP formation program that made me embrace my calling as a journalist.

It has been 10 years since I made the commitment to serve my country in whatever profession I am in. Today, another batch of outstanding students will be given the extraordinary experience to be declared as ten of the region’s best.

To this year’s new batch TOSPians, go ahead and bask in the glory of this award. But hopefully you will learn to turn the spotlight away from you and shine it on the people for whom you serve. An outstanding award is not a culmination of your work. It is the impetus for more sustainable initiatives which will bring more positive benefits to the Filipinos and the communities you are part of.

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TAGS: body, God, health, mental, mind, on, soul, spirit

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