Break Barriers, Build Bridges: Empowering Minds through Mental Health Safe Spaces

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30 October 2023

Writers/ Researchers: Kevin Miko Buac, Iris Salvante 
Editor: Richardson dR Mojica
Moderator: Eula Labordo 
Graphics: Jacklyn Moral, Ian Stephen Velez

 

Navigating Modern Mental Health Challenges

The rise of mental health challenges in modern society has become a critical concern. With the perpetual stressors of a fast-paced lifestyle, technological growth, and the ever-increasing demands of work and social life, it is no surprise that individuals are increasingly susceptible to mental health issues. Approximately one in eight people worldwide live with a mental health condition, and the prevalence varies with sex and age, wherein for males and females, anxiety disorders and depressive disorders are common (1). According to the Philippine WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health, carried out in the early months of 2020, at least 3.6 million Filipinos are thought to be affected by some form of mental, neurological, or substance use disease (2).

A Safe Space Society 

Some factors that influence mental health can be psychological, and a social environment can provide resources that encourage mind stability. However, if social inequality is present based on things that group people, such as age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc., the risk of mental health difficulties can increase (3).

A social environment is made up of families, communities, government policies, and social norms (3).

Sadly, in modern society, cultural values of strong family, emotional restraint and avoiding shame are still among the barriers to seeking professional help for mental illness, aside from public and institutional stigmas. While some don’t trust the mental healthcare system (4).

Research shows that one of the most effective ways to address stigma and discrimination is being exposed to and hearing the stories of people who experienced mental illness and made a long-term commitment to anti-stigma campaigns. And it works at the personal and population levels (4).

Forms of Safe Spaces

Community-based (Physical). Living conditions, neighborhood and access to health services are some social factors in a community that can impact a person’s mental health. Good quality housing and peace and order are examples of government initiatives that provide safe space to communities (3).

Online-based (Virtual). Some studies indicated that online communities can promote stronger social bonds. However, it also showed that creating safe spaces online builds some conflicts between one’s freedom and boundaries (5).

Initiatives (Relational). Support groups either from NGOs or workplaces encourage people to start the conversation and to talk openly about mental illness. Some offer resources and tools to learn more and take action to reduce stigma (4).

Inclusivity and Support Hand-in-hand

So far, safe spaces have shown numerous benefits with merits, even as an alternative to hospital-based care for people experiencing psychological distress (6). Remember that building inclusive, safe spaces is essential to support diversity and promote a sense of belonging among individuals. Fostering diversity is instrumental in enhancing innovation, creativity, and problem-solving in modern workplaces (7). In maintaining safe spaces, principles such as suspension of judgment and no censorship need to be implemented, along with the values of mutual trust and respect (8). In terms of application, safe spaces, no matter the context, can adapt strategies such as preventing discrimination, inclusive involvement, listening with empathy, and promoting open dialogue (9). All in all, the strategies mentioned above create a culture of acceptance and inclusivity, thus enabling safe spaces to be sustainable in a supportive environment.

Real-life stories that demonstrate the society’s impact on mental health:

Marina Summers, a content creator and Drag Race Philippines finalist, said in an interview that when she decided to show her identity as a member of the LGBTQI+ community by dressing up femininely, she felt a certain guilt as her siblings were teased because of her. But as her family remained supportive of her, she said: “Hindi ako lumabas. Sila yung pinapasok ko sa life ko (I didn’t come out. I let them into my life) (10).”

She no longer had to deal with the pressure of the need to come out as she felt that the most important people in her life—her family—accepted her for who she was.

On the other hand, some issues can only be addressed with private-sector and government intervention such as workplace bullying.

A young adult who had just graduated from college shared with Cosmo, “I was bullied in the workplace. I didn’t know a lot of stuff and was still adjusting to my new environment. My older, more experienced colleagues would talk about me behind my back instead of talking to me directly or calling me out for my shortcomings. They didn’t know that I could hear and feel them…and I would feel ganged up on every time (11).”

Anti-Bullying in the Workplace Act was filed in the House of Representatives on June 16, 2023.

 

 

Nurturing safe spaces is the groundwork for promoting a diverse but inclusive society. It’s a crucial aid not only for people experiencing psychological disorders but also for those who are facing social inequalities, in which discrimination follows (3). 

Statistics may seem overwhelming, and breaking the stigma is not in the hands of mental health survivors and advocates alone. It’s a journey that entails a change in society as a whole (3). 

Shifts and adjustments in policies, norms, and even personal perspectives may challenge families, communities, and the government, but creating a safe space always starts with compassion and education.

 

This October 30, as we close our month-long celebration of mental health month, let us talk about the society in the 3S framework of #MentalHealthPH. Tara, #UsapTayo dahil #LigtasDito.

Session Questions: 

  1. What are the essential elements that contribute to creating a safe and inclusive mental health space in society?
  2. How can we establish safe spaces for individuals in need of support in the community?
  3. How can technology be maximized to establish virtual safe spaces?

 

References:

  1. World Health Organization. (2022). World mental health report: Transforming mental health for all – executive summary. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240050860
  2. Department of Health. (2020). Your Mind Matters: DOH Calls for Unified Response to Mental Health. Department of Health – Philippines. https://doh.gov.ph/press-release/YOUR-MIND-MATTERS-DOH-CALLS-FOR-UNIFIED-RESPONSE-TO-MENTAL-HEALTH
  3. Morning, J. (2021). How does society affect your mental health? Spunout. https://spunout.ie/mental-health/help-a-friend/society-mental-health/
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.). Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination
  5. Puigcercós, R. M., Rivera-Vargas, P., & Cobo, C. (2019). Virtual communities as safe spaces created by young feminists: identity, mobility and sense of belonging. In Springer eBooks (pp. 123–140). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-96113-2_8
  6. Banfield, M., Fitzpatrick, S. J., Lamb, H., Giugni, M., Calear, A. L., Stewart, E., Pavloudis, M., Ellen, L., Sargent, G., Skeat, H., Edwards, B., Miller, B., Gulliver, A., Ellis, L. A., Bliokas, V., Goj, P., Lee, M., Stewart, K., Webb, G. C., . . . Shand, F. (2022). Co-creating safe spaces: Study protocol for translational research on innovative alternatives to the emergency department for people experiencing emotional distress and/or suicidal crisis. PLOS ONE, 17(10), e0272483. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0272483
  7. Hossain, M. I. (2023). Managing Diversity through Human Resource Management: A USA Perspective and Conceptual Framework. Archives of Business Research, 11(8), 292–306. https://doi.org/10.14738/abr.118.15417
  8. Kisfalvi, V., & Oliver, D. (2015). Creating and maintaining a safe space in experiential learning. Journal of Management Education, 39(6), 713–740. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562915574724
  9. Nishii, L. H., & Leroy, H. (2022). A Multi-Level framework of inclusive leadership in organizations. Group & Organization Management, 47(4), 683–722. https://doi.org/10.1177/10596011221111505
  10. Legaspi, J. (2023). ‘Sometimes we don’t need to go to safe spaces. Sometimes the safe space is us.’ Manila Bulletin. https://mb.com.ph/2023/6/26/sometimes-we-don-t-need-to-go-to-safe-spaces-sometimes-t%20%20he-safe-space-is-us
  11. Cosmopolitan Philippines. (n.d.). Pinays Share Their Worst Bullying Experience. https://www.cosmo.ph/relationships/real-people-worst-bullying-stories
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