Does everyone regardless of nation, station, or color deserve to have their mental health experiences validated and have access to quality support? For #MentalHealthPh, a Philippines mental health organization, that’s a hard yes.
Since 2016, #MentalHealthPH has tirelessly pushed for mental health support to be acknowledged as a fundamental human right in a country whose stigma on mental health is much higher than that of the United States or the UK.
In amplifying and supporting individual stories of lived mental illnesses to raise mental health awareness and structuring initiatives enabling systematic support, co-founder and Executive Director Roy Dahildahil, his colleagues, and their organizations are safe spaces in a country in need of more conversations and support around mental health, evidenced by the over 80,000 strong Filipino and friends community in the #MentalHealthPH Facebook group, 38,000 followers on Twitter, and successful of their community campaigns.
Roy has generously given his time to speak with me on what’s going on in the Philippines with mental health, LGBTQ mental health, and what he does to take care of his own. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity:
Name: Roy Dahildahil Role: Co-founder, Executive Director, #MentalHealthPH Based in: Philippines Age: 28
In your words, describe who you are.
I am a friend who aspires to be anybody’s safe space. I’m a learner who finds joy in discovering and creating new things. And I’m a future shaper who dreams of creating a world of acceptance by embracing my own vulnerabilities.
Walk us through your mornings during the week. What activities do you do that serve as meditation or a practice of mindfulness for you?
The quarantine greatly affected my work transforming my home to be my place of work as well. To maintain a sense of normalcy, I put up routines and guides for my day. During good days, I wake up at 4 am or 5 am (on bad days, that’s 6 am or 7am). I turn on my water heater and wait for the water to get hot; I usually pause and do nothing while waiting for my hot water and just allow my mind to wander, be slow, and in the present moment. After a few minutes, I drink my first liquid (warm water) and then enjoy my coffee. It’s a mundane, but significant process for me, one that allows me to be more present and in control of how I go about my day.
At #MentalhealthPH you emphasize providing mental health services and support through the 3S (Self, Society, and System) and the 3OS (Online, Onground, and On-ward) approach. How does one implement that?
The 3S (Self, Society, System) framework helps us stay mindful of which levels we will be creating an impact for.
Self: We care about people on the individual level and empower them to support themselves and/or other people. We do this through educational campaigns via social media, schools, workplaces, amongst others– and through our platform.
Society: We care about people on the societal level and invest in cultivating a culture that cares for and contributes to the greater collective good. We do this by normalizing conversations about mental health and sharing stories of people with lived experience to humanize mental illness. Our projects such as #UsapTayo on Twitter and Voices of Hope on Facebook and Instagram.
System: We care about people on the systems level and ensure that the structures and relationships influencing our lives seek to support rather than undermine our mental health. We do this via continuous representation in meetings with the Department of Health and Philippine Council for Mental health. We also promote key opinion leaders, business leaders, and institutions to implement policies protecting a constituent’s mental health. Investing in good mental health brings huge returns to individuals’ lives, their communities, businesses and economies, and society at large.
Discrimination is a major stressor to the development of mental illness and this does not exclude the case for discrimination against the LGBTQ community. As an LGBTQ advocate, can you share some other stressors that significantly affect LGBTQ mental health?
The Philippines, at least in the community and circle I’m in, is not yet as accepting of the LGBTQI+ community. A lot of things are not yet understood (stigma), and the importance of understanding and respecting SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression) is still unrecognized by many. As a result, people in the LGBTQI+ community have difficulty owning and writing their own story. Some prefer to hide in their own world (closet)– they bottle up emotions, with no one to ask for support. Oftentimes, family fails to be a system-sphere of support as many in the older generations do not understand SOGIE.
Lack of access to SOGIE information is an added struggle to those trying to understand themselves more (seeking answers about their sexual and gender identity), with no one to ask for clarifications. Not being able to fully understand and own their identities are significant stressors to LGBTQ mental health.
The Mental Health Act legislation was recently enacted in June 2018 to address substantial infrastructure needs in the way the Philippines provides mental health support and to protect the rights of those who are mentally ill. As of 2019, only 3-5% of the Philippine’s health budget was invested towards mental health. What are some changes you and other organizations are working to lobby and implement nationwide now?
At this time, no new laws are being lobbied in mental health; we’re primarily focusing on ensuring the Mental Health Act is executed properly and that there is proper implementation at the local-level. Like many laws enacted in the Philippines, without continuous monitoring and oversight, the national laws will fail to trickle down to the grassroots level, so that’s where the work of our organizations come in.
There’s actually no notable mental health conference or summit I can think of that marries the for-profit, non-profit, policy and medical worlds of mental health (this excludes events held by the American Psychological Association which largely attract scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students). The only significant and integrated professional mental health community I can think of for the United States is a Slack channel (Mental Health Startup Community), home to some thousand members. In 2020, we had over 900 startups in the mental health field, not including the number of non-profit organizations and student-individual run initiatives. I think it’s about time we form a formal collective or network in the States. You’re already doing that in the Philippines. How has that been going?
The advocacy network that we helped create in 2019 is called Human-rights based Mental Health Advocacy Network (HUMAN). Currently we have 15+ professional organizations ranging from psychiatric, psychological, neurological organizations, to civic organizations (youth, advocacy groups), and we’re continuing to recruit more organizations to improve our reach across Philippines’ various regions. Together, we developed a learning module to have one framework for approaching mental health in the Philippines. The 3S – Self, Society, Framework , proposed by #MentalHealthPH was adapted by the network, and it has been further built upon since.
Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give your younger self, what would it be?
Dear younger self, you have the permission to ask questions, to make mistakes, to try, to feel, to not be okay. Growing up you might feel you have to be perfect, that people are watching your every action, to always please your parents and friends. Be you, be authentic, embrace your vulnerabilities. Stay curious and never stop growing. ☺
Interview by Susan Yoomin Im
To access a directory of 113 mental health organizations, facilities, and services in the Philippines, visit https://mentalhealthph.org/directory