May 20, 2021
Writers: Azie Marie Libanan & Raven Gavino
Researchers: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Shane Wendy Serabia & Georgia Marie Tumenlaco
Graphics: Krystle Mae Labio & Jacklyn Moral
Tweet Chat Moderators: Marga Miñon, Eula Mei Labordo, Jomari Gimongala, Kyra Ballesteros, Aloe Janelie Olegario
Documentation: Alvin Joseph Mapoy & Ian Stephen Velez
Spaces Moderators: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Azie Marie Libanan & Richardson Mojica
In partnership with over 1000 brands, nonprofits, cultural leaders, and government agencies, #MentaHealthPH’s #UsapTayo campaign will partner in the first-ever Mental Health Action Day (Mental Health, 2021) this May 20, 2021.
This movement aims to transform awareness to action. More importantly, this movement will encourage more discourse on Mental Health realities, and empower and provide people with tangible tools to take the next steps towards #MentalHealthAction for themselves, for their loved ones, and for their community (Mental Health, 2021).
“From Covid-19 to economic struggles and the continuing fight for racial justice, the other half of the twin pandemic is the rise of our mental health challenges,” said Erika Soto Lamb, Vice President of Social Impact Strategy at MTV Entertainment Group. “This is a critical moment to shift our culture from mental health awareness to mental health action, and MTV is proud to come together with diverse cross-sector leaders on this inaugural day to encourage and empower people to take action — for themselves, for their loved ones or for the systemic changes needed to improve our social and emotional wellbeing (MHAD, 2021).”
Over the past two decades, suicide rates have risen, particularly among young adults. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the already dire crisis into what many mental health professionals have called the “second pandemic.” Although there is a growing number of people who have become comfortable discussing mental health, finding effective resources and knowing how to get help remain challenging. Mental Health Action Day (MHAD) is an open-source movement of brands, organizations, and cultural leaders to drive culture from mental health awareness to mental health action (MHAD, 2021).
Mental Health defined
The World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution, as cited in the Mental Health Action Plan (MHAP) for 2013-2020, defines Mental health as an integral part of health and well-being: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Therefore, Mental health, like other aspects of health, can be affected by a range of socioeconomic factors that need to be addressed through comprehensive strategies for promotion, prevention, treatment, and recovery in a whole-of-government approach (WHO MHAP, 2013).
Determinants of mental health and mental disorders include not only individual attributes such as the ability to manage one’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors and interactions with others, but also social, cultural, economic, political and environmental factors. National policies, social protection, living standards, working conditions, and community social support affect an individual’s mental health, and their capacity to access resources. Exposure to adversity at a young age is an established preventable risk factor for mental disorders (WHO MHAP, 2013).
According to Keyes, mental health and mental illness are not opposite ends of a single measurement continuum. Instead, mental health is a syndrome of symptoms of both positive feelings (emotional well-being) and positive functioning (psychological and social well-being) in life. And anytime in your life, depending on your circumstances, you may find yourself at any point in the spectrum, and what matters most (and what you can adjust) are the coping strategies that you employ. In his comprehensive model, the presence of mental health is described as flourishing in life, while the absence of mental health is characterized as languishing in life (Levels, 2018).
Consequently the WHO reports that mental and behavioral disorders account for about 14% of the global burden of disease and as many as 450 million people suffer from these illnesses. In the Philippines (PH), the PH-WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health conducted in the early part of 2020 shows that at least 3.6 million Filipinos suffer from a mental, neurological, or substance abuse disorder (DOH, 2020).
In the light of widespread human rights violations and the discrimination experienced by people with mental disorders, the WHO Mental Health Action Plan (MHAP) for 2013-2020 recognizes that a human rights perspective is essential in responding to the global burden of mental disorders (WHO-MHAP, 2013).
Mental health in a pandemic
The Department of Health (DOH) highlighted the need to raise awareness about mental health especially since the country is still at the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, “there [are fewer] than one mental health worker for every 100,000 Filipinos, and many are currently unable to gain access to services”. He added that mental health is a serious matter and cannot be left unattended, and that there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to taking better care of one’s mental health. He also recognized the need to make a concerted effort, at all levels, in order to help people with these conditions (Crisostomo, 2020).
A study by Tee, et al. (2020) of 1,879 completed online surveys gathered from March 28-April 12, 2020 showed that during the early phase of the pandemic in the Philippines, 469 of respondents reported moderate-to-severe anxiety, and 313 reported moderate-to-severe depression and psychological impact.
According to this study, 16.3% of respondents rated the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as moderate-to-severe; 16.9% reported moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms; 28.8% had moderate-to-severe anxiety levels; and 13.4% had moderate-to-severe stress levels (Tee, et. al, 2020).
Sec. Duque further mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has evoked overwhelming reactions and emotions from people, as many have had their livelihoods affected, and others are worried about keeping their families safe. He also pointed out that the United Nations policy brief on COVID-19 states that good mental health is critical to the functioning of society at the best of times. And this needs to include improving service delivery capability and ensuring greater access both need substantial investment in terms of infrastructure, manpower, and resources (DOH, 2020).
Action looks different for everyone
The #MentalHealthActionDay campaign recognizes that the first step towards addressing mental health issues is different for everyone. The campaign hopes to encourage people to do what feels right for them, and to begin getting mental health support for themselves, their loved ones, or for their community. The goal is to advocate for systemic changes to remove the stigma that surrounds mental health.,
Globally, efforts by mental health researchers to effect policy change are often confounded by common challenges such as stigmatization, heterogeneity, low financial investment and limited data (Stories, 2016).
The WHO-MHAP supports this view as it emphasizes the need for services, policies, legislation, plans, strategies, and programs to protect, promote and respect the rights of persons with mental disorders in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other relevant international and regional human rights instruments (WHO-MHAP, 2013).
Systems Action in PH
The DOH together with WHO Philippines, has been consistently calling for every Filipino to be more involved in the discussions on mental health. People experiencing feelings of sadness have also been encouraged to talk about it (DOH, 2020).
In a joint media release for the September 10, 2020 Suicide prevention day, DOH emphasized how, “The first step to healing begins at home, in an environment that encourages open conversation and seeking advice from medical professionals.” The department has also launched multi-sectoral approaches for mental health with programs and interventions across a variety of settings (e.g. workplaces, schools, communities), and aimed at high-risk groups (DOH, 2020).
Another project worth mentioning is the development of a multi-sectoral National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which includes psychosocial services such as the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH)’s Crisis Hotline “Kamusta Ka? Tara Usap Tayo,” launched on May 2, 2019. The hotline is available 24/7 for prompt psychological first aid. Also, the UP Diliman Psychosocial Services (UPD PsychServ) has provided free counseling via telephone for front liners (DOH, 2020).
These are all in compliance with RA 11036 or the “Mental Health Act” which mandates the provision of comprehensive suicide prevention services encompassing crisis intervention, and a response strategy on a nationwide scale (DOH, 2020).
Given all of these, there seems to be a long way still to go for the country in terms of systemic actions. Awareness campaigns such as #MentalHealthPH’s #UsapTayo, #40SecondsOfHope and Mental Health Talks have helped in zeroing the stigma against mental health by creating safe spaces for awareness and discourse, but there’s still so much work to do.
In fact, the WHO-MHAP identifies major action objectives such as: (1) more effective leadership and governance for mental health; (2) the provision of comprehensive, integrated mental health and social care services in community-based settings; (3) implementation of strategies for promotion and prevention; (3) and strengthened information systems, evidence, and research (WHO-MHAP, 2013).
Transform the culture of awareness to a culture of action
So we go back to the goal of the May 20 Mental Health Action day: to start getting mental health support— whether for oneself, one’s loved ones or for all by advocating for systemic changes to remove the stigma that surrounds mental health. Here are some things that you can START doing.
Mental Health Action for Oneself
- Practice self-awareness
According to a 2018 Harvard Business Review (HBR), Self-Awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence and it allows a person to deeply understand emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. Listen to yourself (What, 2018).
- Have Quiet Time
There are lots of distractions and noise in our surroundings, take time to quiet your mind. Spending quiet time alone gives your mind an opportunity to renew itself and create order (7 reasons, 2017).
- Practice Self-Love
Self-love is not simply a state of feeling good; it is an action. Accepting your flaws is one form of self love. Take care of your own needs and do not sacrifice your well-being to please others (Learn, 2019).
- Share Your Stories
Ending stigma about mental health needs a collaborative effort. It starts with you. You can share your success stories in your social media accounts with #MentalHealthAction. Telling your silent battles to someone who understands you is a great help, it’s okay to seek professional help (Mental, 2021).
- Join the Mental Health Action Community
Find a community where you can have a safe space and will allow you to take action about your mental health. It can be a support group that promotes a healthy mind and well-being (Mental, 2021).
Mental Health Action for Loved Ones
- Support Your Loved Ones
You don’t have to be a professional to be able to give support to people experiencing mental health conditions. Just being there to listen and to accompany them in their journey will help alleviate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
- Normalize Talking about Mental Health at Home
Talking about mental health inside your homes will open safe spaces for your family members to understand and give attention to everyday mental health struggles that each person in the family experiences. This will also help break stigma and strengthen the support system that should ideally be accessible at home (9 ways, 2017).
- Use Inclusive Language
Every part of a family is valuable. You don’t have to exclude your family members who are experiencing mental health struggles. You can say words like; “we can journey with it together”, “you are not alone in this fight”, “we are always here for you” (Mental, 2021).
- Be There to Listen
Listen to your loved ones without judgment. Don’t just hear them out but try to understand. You don’t have to force yourself to say anything, just being there is a form of help already.
Mental Health Action for All
A report prepared by the Mental Health Innovation Network for Grand Challenges Canada entitled “The Six Stories of Change”, presented a number of different pathways to success in policy engagement. It featured six stories of established organizations working in the development and delivery of low cost and innovative mental health programs in low-and middle-income countries, where mental health policy is generally underdeveloped (Stories, 2016).
The Organizations were: (1) Friendship Bench, Zimbabwe: A program delivering Problem Solving Therapy for common mental disorders in primary care, to a population with a high HIV prevalence; (2) FaNs for Kids, Pakistan: A network that organizes, trains and empowers family members of children with developmental disorders alongside primary healthcare specialist and voluntary workers; (3) Quality Rights Gujarat, India: A program using the WHO’s innovative QualityRights framework and toolkit to promote human rights and establish new standards of care within mental health facilities; (4) Farm Radio International, Malawi and Tanzania: A model for decreasing stigma and improving identification and treatment of depression in young people through youth radio programing, school based mental health literacy, and community health provider training; (5) Africa Mental Health Foundation, Kenya: A program building referral networks and integrating mental health into existing public and community health services by training formal and informal healthcare providers; (6) Enhanced Primary Mental Health Care Study, Viet Nam: An approach to improving the capacity and quality of primary healthcare services for the identification and treatment of depression in adults (Stories, 2016).
What is apparent through this research is that there is no single approach to policy engagement. And it highlighted the following salient themes to successfully make systemic actions from the grassroots:
- Aligning with government priorities. All six Stories of Change involved policy engagement efforts that aligned with government priorities and were tailored specifically to the appropriate government level (municipal, county, or federal).
- Involving key decision-makers early. Involving key decision-makers early was common to all the Stories of Change presented in the report. In other Stories, relationships with key decision-makers had been built over time.
- Providing high quality research. Stories of Change described the actions undertaken by research organizations, and public sector institutions to provide organizations with the evidence for implementing new interventions. The researchers understood that the coalition of stakeholders were eager to partner with the expert universities because the government preferred working with coalitions supported by strong academic institutions.
- Being the knowledge broker. Organizations can leverage their knowledge to better support government partners. Key to this was the ability to transform that knowledge into something usable for the government.
- Making friends. Building friendly relationships had been instrumental in gaining access to decision-makers. It was through connections that organizations were able to develop a “management team” to ensure buy-in from investors for innovation.
- Finding champions. In the context of policy engagement, a champion is defined as someone who understands how the internal system works and who supports the progress of a particular program or initiative. There have been several instances where organizations have either proactively or unexpectedly found a champion.
- Being flexible with your messaging. The innovation in mental health often involved multi-sectoral approaches, and required that messages be tailored to decision-makers with very different priorities. In mid to low-income economies, poverty reduction will always have to be a priority of the government, and so it was important to link investment in mental health with an increase in workers’ productivity.
- Looking for policy windows. Policy windows are opportunities for policy change that occur when a potential policy solution and problem are aligned. It takes a skilled policy entrepreneur to be able to spot oncoming trends and prepare for future policy windows, but they can also occur spontaneously (Stories, 2016).
Mental health remains one of the most underdeveloped areas of research and policy in low-and middle-income countries. In recent years, researchers from low-and-middle-income countries have contributed only 5% of the international research literature on mental health . As of 2014, 10% of the world’s countries had no national mental health policy or plan at all. Researchers and policy-makers must work together to ensure that the scarce resources available for mental health are leveraged effectively—first to develop practical, evidence-based innovations that address the most pressing needs in the local context, and then to take these innovations to scale in order to maximize their impact (Stories, 2016).
Policy engagement can be a daunting exercise, and mental health researchers may not know where to begin or how to strengthen existing efforts. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but we should be heartened to learn that there is a global community of like-minded innovators struggling—and often succeeding—to change policy, who are willing to share their experiences and learning (Stories, 2016).
The Six Stories of Change report ends with a dynamic Hema proverb that states: Wisdom is like fire—people take it from others (Stories, 2016).
This is true, we have lit the fire of MH awareness these past years, it’s time to take action now.
- If you look at yourself in a mirror right now, what would you need to hear?
- How do you transform your knowledge and understanding of mental health into mental health action?
- What mental health activities have you been doing for yourself, for your loved ones, and for others?
- Make your own message of hope with a (hashtag) #CallToAction, pair it with a gif from the mental health action day site:https://www.mentalhealthactionday.art/#gifs.
Don’t forget to add our hashtags #UsapTayo #MentalHealthPH #MentalHealthActionDay
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