Inquirer Super

What to do if your loved one is struggling with their mental health

By: Pam Pastor

“With this pandemic, lumitaw na all the cracks, all the vulnerabilities have come up. People who could have otherwise coped in a predictable and certain world suddenly realize, ‘Oh no, we have neglected to master and nurture these skills,’” said clinical psychologist Dr. Anna Tuazon.

Tuazon, an associate professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of the Philippines Diliman and a clinical supervisor for UP Diliman Psychosocial Services (PsycServ), was one of the panelists of the most recent leg of Globe and Inquirer’s #StartANewDay webinar series. The panel, which also included NGF Mindstrong founder Jean Goulbourn, actress and mental health advocate Iza Calzado, and speaker and mental health advocate Ari Verzosa, focused on the family’s role in one’s mental health—an important topic to discuss during such a trying time for everyone.

Ongoing program

But Globe has been a staunch advocate of mental health long before the pandemic.

“It’s been an ongoing program. One of the things we noticed even prior to the pandemic was the rise in cases of depression and of suicide. We have the capacity and capability to help. We find that the power of digital and mobile solutions really help address the problem. We have partners that we have enabled through our digital solutions. That helps promote mental health awareness and how people can seek help and it amplifies the solutions available from these different partners,” said Yoly Crisanto, Globe’s SVP for Corporate Communications and Chief Sustainability Officer.

Since 2012, Globe has partnered with NGF Mindstrong (formerly known as the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation) for Hopeline 2919, a 24/7 toll-free hotline. Hopeline 2919 gets between 72 to 148 calls each day, said Goulbourn.

Globe also partnered with UP Diliman PsycServ which offers  teleconsultation, psychological first aid, counseling and psychotherapy. There’s also the 24/7 telehealth hotline KonsultaMD that Globe powers through its subsidiary 917 Ventures. Then there’s Hope Bank, an online community on Facebook that Globe created for anyone trying to cope with the emotional and mental challenges caused by COVID-19.

“Our dedication to this cause is constant. The Filipino people have been reeling because of many different concerns during the pandemic—limited movement, people are stuck at home, job security, financial stability, all these things come into play when it comes to your mental wellness. All these tie directly to the mental wellness of the Filipino people,” said Crisanto.

Safe space

Realizing the need for a safe space where conversations about mental health can take place at a time when people need them the most, Globe introduced the #StartANewDay webinar series. “People are always seeking support. We found it an appropriate way to shed light on the challenges and to point them in the right direction,” said Crisanto.

Previous legs have been dedicated to addressing the concerns of millennials and Gen Z as well as educators and parents who are struggling with the changes brought about by the switch to distance learning.

“Here are the signs to keep in mind to answer the question ‘Are we okay?’ or ‘Okay ka pa ba?’ Are you eating well, sleeping well and having enough fun and enjoyment? Are you able to enjoy other people? This is really important even though we’re in quarantine and we’re staying at home,” said Tuazon. “As a clinician, what I look for is how people cope with stressors, with problems because these are a fact of life.”

So how would you know if a loved one is struggling? “Hopelessness, that’s the biggest red flag. Helplessness as well, when we feel that nothing we do can solve the problem. Those are the two big warning signs that maybe we are dealing with something that will require professional help or professional guidance,” said Tuazon.

It’s important to be observant, the panelists said, because family members won’t always tell you what’s wrong. Tuazon said, “Observation matters. What is her baseline? What is her personality? Wow, she used to be so friendly and now she shut down? Or she used to tell me everything about school and now she won’t say anything?”

Verzosa said, “Watch out for their behavior. What are they doing that they didn’t used to do? Let’s say noon, malabas sila, ngayon they isolate themselves.”

“Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation,” said Tuazon.

And really listen, said Verzosa. “There’s a reason God gave us two ears and one month.. We’re supposed to listen twice as much as we talk.”

Validate

Don’t dismiss your loved one’s feelings. Tuazon said, “I find that people don’t exactly know how to validate. When you listen to someone, you want to convey to them that what they’re feeling, what they’re going through makes sense, based on their history, based on the situation. You don’t have to agree or approve of someone’s thoughts when you validate.”

Calzado, who opened up last year about losing her mother to suicide, said, “This is the first webinar that I’ve attended talking about my mom… As early as 5 or 6, I understood already that there was something wrong with my mom. This was back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, people didn’t really have the kind of knowledge they had now, the kind of support system they have now… I would say that just from personal experience, I think, just try to understand. My mom and I would fight, she would trigger me and I would trigger her. Knowing what I know now, I think space is also a good thing and the power of the pause is really important. Even in my relationships now, my husband, I have a brother I live with,  I really have to take that pause and really be careful about what I say.”

Empathy is essential. “You put yourself in the shoes of that family member,” she said.

Goulbourn, a fashion designer whose journey as a mental health advocate began after her daughter Natasha took her life in 2002, said, “There were signs I couldn’t fathom. She was making sure her dog would get close to me. She started giving away her clothes. She was telling my driver ‘alagaan mong mabuting-mabuti si mama, wag mo siyang iwanan.’ I didn’t know that was her goodbye. Where did I go wrong? Not being educated. Not knowing the symptoms. Not allowing her to talk… I did not want to talk about suicide. I couldn’t even use that word 18 years ago.. The word suicide and magpapakamatay, I cringed at the word.” Goulbourn has since dedicated her life to the cause of mental health and suicide prevention.

Calzado said, “When someone says they want to end their life, just take it seriously every time. I speak from personal experience that it may come to a point where you think it won’t happen but the next thing you know, it’s done. Please, if you’re a family member trying to understand somebody going through this, just know that you have to take it seriously each and every time.”

As for when you should encourage loved ones struggling to seek professional help, Tuazon said, “The earlier the better. Don’t wait until it’s too late. I’d rather that they go to me before a crisis. It’s so much easier and faster. I’ve had kids who I just meet for a couple of sessions, just some booster sessions just to check if things are okay. You don’t need a disorder or a diagnosis in order to get help. We are not invested in trying to find a problem. I’m so happy when I can tell someone, ‘Actually, you know what, you’re okay.’”

Generation gap

A webinar viewer wanted to know how she can bridge the generation gap between her and her millennial kids. Verzosa, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 12 years ago and who runs the support group Mental Health Matters with his daughter Kylie Verzosa, said, “There’s always been an open line of communication between me and my children. We freely talk about it. The key is to get to know your children and get to know their barkada. Ideally, the parents would be the support group but often, people really talk to their friends.”

Goulbourn said, “I learned never to be judgmental after the suicide of my daughter. I learn to look at things from different angles. I request that we build bridges of love and compassion.”

One important thing for people to remember is not to neglect their own mental health as they try to support loved ones who are struggling. Calzado said, “I think that self-awareness is key. You have to know where you are and if your cup is not full, you cannot give to others. It’s always checking, ‘Where am I at? How am I?’ Find what works for you. You really have to prioritize yourself. ‘Di ba nga pag sinasabi pag may emergency, you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you help another individual? Kailangan talaga isipin ang sarili, hindi naman ito pagiging selfish. We can be selfless, of course, and it’s a good thing to be, pero kailangan the cup is full and we are okay as well.”

She added, “When I finally shared about my mom’s story last year, I just knew it was time to do that. It feels like I’m living part of my purpose here on earth. All the things that my mother experienced and I experienced, it feels like I was put in this position to make a difference. If only one person today finds hope in what we have shared today, then we’ve already won.”

Globe is far from done. It has more inspiring and informative webinars about mental health lined up during the pandemic. And this is a campaign that will continue even after Covid-19—their dedication to ending the stigma against mental illness, promoting mental wellness and providing help to those who need it will endure.

Reach Hopeline 2919 by calling 2919 using Globe/TM. Text or viber UPD PsycServ at 0906-374-3466 or 0916-757-3157. Call the National Center for Mental Health at 0917-899-USAP (8727) or 0917-989-USAP (8727). Get in touch with the Philippine Mental Health Association’s Clinical and Intervention Services Department at 0917-565-2036. For basic counseling from KonsultaMD, call 79880 on mobile or (02)7798-8000 on landline (toll-free for Globe/TM).