Philippine Literature and Mental Health


August 20, 2022

Writers/ Researchers: Rafael Reyes, Jasmin Cyrille Tecson
Editor: K Ballesteros
Peer Reviewer: Azie Marie Liban, Richardson dR Mojica
Graphics: Billie Fuentes, Jacklyn Moral, Krystle Mae Labio
Tweetchat Moderators: Gie Leanna Dela Pena, DG Ramos Patricia Sevilla 
Space Moderators: Azie Marie Liban, Billie Fuentes, Lemuel Gallogo


“Crispin! Basilio! Mga anak ko!” This infamous line from Noli Me Tangere is probably one of the many lines that most Filipinos use outside the borders of our schools. Sadly, this is remembered by most Filipinos, not because of Sisa’s character as a loving mother but due to the depiction of Sisa’s mental health condition.

Mental health is an issue that’s been brought up in many novels and textbooks, and continue to be taken out of context. In a study about Filipino help-seeking for mental health problems and associated barriers, stigma was identified as the primary barrier preventing Filipinos from seeking mental health services [1].

Literature is widely defined as written works used to transmit culture. However, literature can also be classified into different forms including stories, oral tradition, and visual literature. In this regard, we also consider folklore, poetry, and dramas in the Philippine context as part of Filipino Literature [2].

This August, as we take pride in celebrating our “Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa”, let’s dwell on the past of how mental health has been viewed in Philippine Literature and in what way can we make a move on how readers will view it moving forward.

Philippine Literature and Mental Health

To begin with, let us talk about Virgilio Enriquez and Sikolohiyang Pilipino. Filipino Psychology or “Sikolohiyang Pilipino” was first introduced as a movement to help understand the Filipino mind. This idea from Enriquez opened the doors for professionals to talk more about mental health and psychology in the Filipino context [3].

A study about Mental Health Literacy and Mental Health of Filipino College Students included five hundred nineteen (519) participants from six Philippine universities. According to the average Mental Health literacy scores, students from state universities showed significantly higher mental health literacy scores than those in private universities [4].

Nourishing mental health through literature

Reading has always been a timeless hobby. While the books and pieces we read today are an evolution of those that our ancestors engaged with, literature remains to be the best way to vicariously experience the world and the people who have stories to pass on.

What exactly does reading do for us? For one, it teaches us to be empathetic towards others. By engaging in the act of reading, we put ourselves in the shoes of the characters we see, and especially those we relate with. In particular, narratives can contain themes of illness and other health conditions to show the reader how it feels to experience pain and suffering under such conditions [5]. Understanding our bodies, then, is one step closer towards becoming empathic people.

Reading also provides a space for introspection or reflective thinking. Literature teaches us to become critical thinkers [5] and allows us to tap into our inner selves and ask how we were feeling [6]. In the realm of mental health literacy, being in touch with our thoughts and emotions has always been one of the underlying themes towards betterment.

A form of therapy involving literature has recently garnered interest in research: bibliotherapy. Bibliotherapy, refers to the use of literature, film, or other media to better understand and treat various mental health problems [7]. Despite being initially coined in 1916, the Ancient Greeks have had a similar approach to dealing with distress, as do the published books in the 1950s that were geared towards teaching children virtues [7]. A recent study even identified bibliotherapy’s usefulness for mental health and dementia by fostering social connections through a person-centered approach [6].

Suffice to say that literature definitely has an impact on the human person—especially when engaging with the book and letting the book engage with you through empathy and a room for introspection. While it’s not explicitly recognized whenever we ask the average reader about why they like reading, it shows why to this day, reading has become a beloved pastime for many.

Integrating Mental Health into Philippine Literature

The question now becomes: how do we take the power of literature in improving one’s mental health and raising mental health literacy in the Philippines?

Professor Sarce, a lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University, wrote a 2021 paper on the lack of discussion about illness in Philippine Literature discourse [5]. In the said paper, he provides a guide for tackling health and illness that will help students and teachers develop empathy [5]. He emphasizes the idea of “illness narratives” as a way to vicariously experience those who suffer from mental health problems [5]. Through this framework, he implies the need to have more literature that tackles illnesses, whether physical or mental, in order for more people to become more literate and empathic about having illnesses.

In a society where stigma and labeling against mental health is adamant, it is important that mental health is being talked about and written down in our literary works in a way that future generations will reflect on, learn from, and understand.


Pre-Session Activity

  • Word Hunt: create a word hunt game with known philippine literature pieces

Session Questions

  1. What is your favorite piece of Philippine Literature?
  2. How is the act of reading literature a beneficial hobby?
  3. How can schools and other institutions utilize our local literature to promote mental health literacy?


[1] Martinez, A. B., Co, M., Lau, J., & Brown, J. (2020). Filipino help-seeking for mental health problems and associated barriers and facilitators: a systematic review. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 55(11), 1397–1413.



[4] Argao, R. C., Reyes, M. E., & Delariarte, C. (2021). Mental Health Literacy and Mental Health of Filipino College Students. North American Journal of Psychology, 23, 437–452.

[5] Sarce, J. P. (2021). Teaching Philippine literature and illness: Finding cure in humanities. Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, 13(2), 1-11.

[6] Brewster, L., & McNicol, S. (2021). Bibliotherapy in practice: a person-centred approach to using books for mental health and dementia in the community. Medical Humanities, 47(4), e12-e12.

[7] Mumbauer, J., & Kelchner, V. (2017). Promoting mental health literacy through bibliotherapy in school-based settings. Professional School Counseling, 21(1), 1096-2409.


How do you feel about this?

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