A Tale of Two Women: A look into mental health

Let me tell you about Tasyon and Conching.

Tasyon and Conching were well-known in my hometown in Albay, Philippines. They were alike yet different–Tasyon, with her waist-length black hair and simple dresses, and Conching with her neatly-combed short hair, nice dresses with a belt accentuating her petite frame, and a dainty hand bag. Tasyon was loud-mouthed; you would know from a kilometer away if she’s around; Conching was quiet and calm even in her movements; I never even heard her utter a word although she sometimes muttered to herself.

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Why were they alike? In our native language, Bicol, they’re both called bua-bua (literally translated as crazy-crazy). I don’t know why. I just know that since childhood, I’d been told that they were “crazy” or mentally unstable. About Conching, I didn’t hear any background story. As for Tasyon, I learned that she lost her sanity when her daughter was brutally raped and killed. That story was neither confirmed nor denied and thus, passed on like a fact.

I don’t recall that they were disrespected or laughed at by the people in my hometown. Perhaps, at certain points, people looked at them or listened to Tasyon’s incoherent rants and stories with amusement as she walked briskly along the street, her long hair flying in the wind or to Conching as she attended the holy mass yet remained stoic and wordless all throughout the ceremony. They were accepted in the society, but they were also avoided.

They came to my mind after so many years on October 10, 2020, World Mental Health Day this year. I thought, why did they become like that? Did someone really bother to know their story? Did someone try to let them seek professional help? It appeared that Tasyon and Conching were just accepted as part of the society, although they were still considered odd or eccentric, welcomed as part of my hometown’s citizenry, yet outside everyone’s circle.

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It appeared that Tasyon and Conching were just accepted as part of the society, although they were still considered odd or eccentric, welcomed as part of my hometown’s citizenry, yet outside everyone’s circle.

These thoughts led to the COVID-19 pandemic and how this health crisis caused an increased rate of mental health problems, anxiety, depression, and even suicide. As explained by several articles, this issue is happening in the Philippines, United States, China, several countries in Asia, some countries in Europe, etc. There was also a surge in the demand for therapists as more people called hotlines and sought professional help to address their need to calm their frayed nerves and quiet their extremely-worried mind. But then, there are many who suffer in the dark, unable or inacapable to seek help because of lack of family support or network of friends, or economic incapacity.

The pandemic caused many people to lose their jobs and worse, to lose a loved one. It heightened anxiety levels because of the health scare and the looming proximity of disease and death. It disrupted the normal flow of life. It cut off people from the activities they enjoyed or did everyday.

Also, the sudden shift to online learning negatively impacted students’ mental health. Not having the clear boundary between home and school, not having the usual fun company of friends, and not experiencing personal interaction while learning but instead being glued in front of the computer all day long are only few of the factors that caused this. To add to these, not all households have supportive family members, separate rooms for students to do their classes, and hi–tech gadgets to keep up with all the required academic submissions and presentations.

As an example, in the University of the Philippines (UP), it was reported (in an October 19 Tinig ng Plaridel article by Geraldine Pearl Santos) that more and more students availed mental health services by the start of the semester. According to UP Diliman’s sole resident psychiatrist Dr. Dinah Nadera, the top reasons why UP students sought help were anxiety, sleep hygiene and concentration problems. Also according to Nadera, it’s not only the students who are affected; even the mental health professionals need to protect their well-being. There are similar stories elsewhere, many of them not even reported or shared in media platforms.

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This concern also extends to teachers. With the sudden change to online learning, a big responsibility fell on their lap–to create modules, be creative in giving activities, be adept in using the online platform, and be flexible in wearing many hats in teaching different groups of students just from one corner of their homes. Also, employees working from home have their own concerns to share–experiencing zoom fatigue, not having a personal/professional life delineation, being expected to be connected 24/7 and so on.

As I am not an expert on the issue, I would not delve too much on the technicalities of addressing this problem. However, as a former educator, a friend, a family member, a sister, and a mother, I would like to share some thoughts on somehow alleviating the burdens caused by mental health issues:

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  • The stigma surrounding mental health should be removed. Just as someone who has a physical ailment sees a doctor for treatment, a person experiencing mental health problems should be able to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist without discrimination.
  • Delivery of mental health services should be given attention by the government, private institutions and even companies. There should be ways for people to access this service when needed.
  • Having a support group helps a lot. It doesn’t matter if it’s just two (2) or three (3) close friends or a trusted family member or a work colleague. What is important is to have that somebody whom you can share your concerns with and who, in the same way, can share their concerns with you without hostility and/or judgement.
  • We should endeavor to have a balanced life. I know that this is easier said than done. But people should find time to make their personal lives enjoyable instead of just slaving away the entire day for work and only going home to eat, watch a little TV or mindlessly surf the net and sleep.
  • We should find time to do the things that we love to do and make us feel good/happy. It may be painting or drawing, or listening to music, or taking a walk, or watching a movie, or having a chat with family and/or friends. Even during a busy day, five-minute breaks away from our tasks/work may help.
  • We should be kind not only to others but also to ourselves. We should allow ourselves to rest when tired, to cry when sad, and to just pause a little when the world gets too much. In the same way, we may try to be more patient and understanding of others. We can support others’ efforts in our own little ways.
  • We may pray to calm our mind and heart. It might help to begin the day with a prayer and end with a prayer. It is like a having a conversation with God.
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Going back to Tasyon and Conching, may we reach out to people who need help. Sometimes, it is not enough that we try to understand or tolerate those who require mental health care. If it’s possible, and if it’s neither intrusive nor unethical, we may help them seek treatment and get better.

To everyone reading this, I wish you well. Take care of your health. Take care of yourself. ❤

(Author’s Note: I initially recalled that one of the women’s name was Basyon. A family member corrected me so I made the revision. That beautiful soul is named Tasyon. 23 Oct. 2020)

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