ENVISION the Philippines as a country where mental health services are readily available, where conversations about mental well-being are normalized and routine. However, the reality is that we are still far from this ideal. At present, resources are scarce: only 3 to 5 percent of the total health budget is allocated to mental health, and there are only around 1,400 psychologists and 500 psychiatrists in the country. This gives an approximate ratio of 1 psychologist to 80,000 Filipinos. This shortage is exacerbated by socioeconomic and cultural factors, such as the unaffordable prices of sessions, accessibility, cultural beliefs and misconceptions about mental health. Essentially, with the status quo there is not a great deal of dignity afforded to a person experiencing mental health challenges.

In the Philippines, there is still a stigma associated with mental health conditions. A person seeking help from a psychiatrist or psychologist may be associated with being crazy already while in reality, it is advisable to seek help whenever a person is experiencing a crisis or stressors from life before it piles up. There are also roles in families and communities that prevent a person from acknowledging the need for mental health care. The roles of the eldest, the breadwinner or the father are associated with being the provider in the family; they cannot be seen as weak. Since they are expected to rise up to these roles of being strong and tough, they are not expected to cry, open up about their feelings or admit that they are not okay. Lastly, there are times when faced with a crisis or a problem, advice such as “Itulog mo lang ‘yan,” “Itawa mo lang’ yan” or, worse, “Iinom mo lang ‘yan” are common. These actions encourage “suppressing” emotions and setting aside current emotions. When you suppress your emotions, the problem will not magically go away but instead has a tendency to manifest at a later time or to be displaced to other people or situations instead of being resolved.

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