As we speak, there have been a number of incidents of suicide around Palawan at this time of lockdown. This report is based yet on the funeral rites conducted by some fellow-priests. Problem is, these cases are unheard of due to our overwhelmed attention to COVID-19. Chances are, this could also be attributed as an effect of coronavirus crisis itself. Any sort of disturbance definitely sends signals to disturb the mind. In fact, incidents of depression are reported to be higher now, worldwide. While this pandemic is brought about by the “invisible enemy”, mental illness proves to be the “silent killer”.

It is on the above emergency sounding that recently I have sent a letter to our City Mayor Lucilo Bayron (copies for other LGU’s will follow suit) advocating for Mental Health (MH). I did so, as head of the Philippine Mental Health Association, Inc. (PMHAI) – Palawan Chapter, as concerned citizen of our beloved community and as a call of my profession to comfort the downtrodden. The truth of the matter is this act of advocating for MH can, and should, be carried out by anyone and everyone. The pitfall in this urgent concern is when we say “mind your own business”. No, never that way. Instead, the mind is our business.

To wit, what have we been lobbying thus far is for the City Government to put up a counseling center/clinic for people. Apropos to this, an officer and staff would definitely make the program formidable. And with the onslaught of COVID-19, the PMHAI- Palawan Chapter is also geared towards psychological interventions as part of the program in the immediate response and recovery after the crisis.

Thankfully, MH has been gaining significant support from our community, albeit very quiet yet on account of the stigma that the illness carries along. On the other hand, in a committee meeting of the city council last January, Chairman on Health and Sanitation Councilor Roy Ventura together with Councillor Jimmy Carbonell, had given a ray of hope for the advocacy with their recommendations to source funds thereof and to help provide for that space (in particular, they suggested for a location which is accessible to peoples – around Mendoza Park possibly). It will tremendously help to know and to be aware that there is a space/place that you can go to when something is a bother inside the mind. Nakakabawas ng ingay sa utak.

As mentioned, another lobbying is to push for MH to become integral in the relief operations and recovery program on account of the pandemic. Of course, on the first line of the rescue is what our physical eyes can notice as essential- food, clothing, shelter (food packs, PPE, facility, among others). But above and beyond what human senses can perceive are the nagging questions about survival, concern for loved ones, worry for employment, anxiety to keep business afloat, among others. All these and more do attack one’s mind. “Hindi ko po maubos maisip kung paano babangon at lumaban,” quipped the one being counselled. Come to think of it, this kind of “laban” does not usually come from the poorest of the poor among us. As we say, sanay na kasi sa mahirap na buhay. Those who are helplessly anxious could be those whom we consider as apparently well and capacitated. Typically, suicide incidents draw comments as “Akala ko okay naman siya”…. “Parang matatag at masayahin nga siya eh.” COVID-19 does not discriminate. The same can be said about mental illness. It attacks anybody- young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural, schooled, or deprived. Furthermore, our care too is towards frontliners. It goes without saying that their role will be this na very challenging time unavoidably subject them to pressures, fears, confusions, etc.

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MH is an outreach that is utterly challenging compared to all others. One, you don’t get selfies doing counseling. Giving food packs has its perks of being photographed, plus “pogi points” on Facebook or IG. Quite the opposite, MH is always and must be about confidentiality. Two, it needs technical know-how. It is too sensitive as it is also very scientific (professional, that is). It cannot just be doing an outreach that is “bara-bara” nor haphazard. And, last but definitely not the least, MH is not a one-shot deal. It entails follow-ups. It is also both time-consuming and energy-draining. In so many words, it is far easier to distribute food packs than to listen to woes and worries of real people.

Make no mistake though. MH is in dire need of volunteers. There are many ways to be of help. Educate, collaborate, and donate. But foremost, don’t hate. Don’t self-hate.

By the way, in the US since 1949, May is observed as Mental Health Awareness month. I bet, we are not aware of it that it has been there for a long time. We are not aware that we should be aware of. The least that we can do now is to make ourselves realize that our mental state is also a public concern. You can help and you can be helped. Among many things, please help to break the stigma associated with mental illness. Advocate for Mental Health. You can save lives… including your own.


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