According to Hontiveros, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, noted that the Philippines has the highest number of depressed people in Southeast Asia and 1 in 5 adult Filipinos suffer from mental or psychiatric disorder.
Based on that information in the Philippines alone, it is quite alarming how common mental disorders are. Yet, this topic is not openly talked about due to the stigma surrounding it. Consequently, it creates shame in asking for help and support when the truth is there is never any shame in asking for help. People are quick to judge other people suffering from mental illness as someone crazy but nothing could be further from the truth. This I can tell you — it takes a lot of strength to overcome a mental illness. Some of the strongest people I know are people struggling from a mental disorder. Someone may be trying their hardest to overcome their mental disorder and to label them as someone crazy is quite unfair, don’t you think?
And so, this led me to do a little project to reduce the stigma of mental illness: Share your story. Simply, to feature courageous people willing to share their personal stories in struggling with a mental illness. Hopefully, this will also provide inspiration to those also struggling with a mental illness.
The first person to be featured is 20 year-old Migo:
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 13 or 14 years old. They weren’t very clear when they diagnosed me. They said I had major depressive disorder with bipolar tendencies. Later on, I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar 1. The symptoms I had were being suicidal, rarely interacting with people, very aloof, socially withdrawn and always overthinking. I was brought to the doctor because I was already experiencing breakdowns.
Were your parents supportive about your condition?
My mom tried to be supportive but it was on and off. My dad left us when I was 10 years old.
Did your mental illness start due to your father leaving?
No. It started way back because they were both abusive. They beat me everyday since I was 4 or 5 years old? Well, not really everyday but it was often. It was my earliest childhood memory and I have no idea if I experienced abuse before that. My father was physically abusive and when my father left, my mom became physically abusive. They were also verbally and emotionally abusive, all kinds, basically.
You seem well-off. At least, did your parents provide for you?
No. My grandparents were the ones who provided for them and they didn’t work, ever. My aunt, uncle and other relatives were the ones who funded for our education; however, they eventually got tired of it and stopped. I was able to study until third year high school when I was 17 years old.
Were you ever admitted due to your mental illness?
Yes. Three times. The first one was in Sunrise Hill and twice in PGH (Philippine General Hospital). My distant relatives were the ones who looked after me in my hospital stay. The reason why I was admitted was due to suicide attempts and insomnia.
Did you take medications?
I took medications on and off. The only medication I take continuously is for my sleep which is Quetiapine 100mg. I wasn’t able to take my mood stabilizer, Aripiprazole everyday since it’s expensive costing around 100 pesos per piece.
What is your outlook on your mental illness?
I am very neutral actually. It’s like I don’t consider that I have mental illness anymore.
So would you say that you already had a big improvement since then?
Do you believe you can overcome your mental illness?
Yes. I was able to overcome it through physical training… martial arts training. I do it everyday. It’s mixed martial arts involving Judo, Jiu jitsu and wrestling. But I started with Muay Thai when I was 17 years old.
What is your message to other people who are struggling with a mental illness?
Once you find your center, your passion, it will be easier to overcome mental illness. It’s like you will really find yourself despite the fact that you feel so lost, so misidentified like you don’t know if you are your illness or another person. But when you find your passion, you will know who you truly are.
What is your defense against the stigma in mental illness?
Mental illness is a valid sickness. It’s not just as simple as having thoughts, it’s not like an illusion. When people tell you to be positive — how can you be positive when you’re already experiencing psychosis? How are you supposed to think positively when you are already hearing voices or having visual hallucinations? I also have many relatives with mental illness. Having schizophrenia and paranoia is quite strong in our family genetics. Like memorizing the car’s plate number because you feel like you’re being followed or believing that someone is out there to kill you. It’s really an illness and not something you can just think away.