Atienza: Let’s talk mental health


TWO weeks ago a teenager committed suicide by jumping off the Mactan Bridge. It is not clear whether love problems or a family crisis prompted the 16-year-old to take her own life, but clearly she was another senseless casualty.

The Mandaue City Police Office (MCPO) immediately vowed to add more police surveillance cars in the bridge areas. But then again, considering the number of jumpers we’ve had over the years, I dare say the pronouncement was probably just “lip service” and this suicide is just one more case of the police being “too late the hero.”

But this is not about the Mandaue police, delayed or not. This is about our own delayed or archaic attitude towards recognizing that we are facing a mounting incidence of mental health disorders in Cebu today.

My dear friend, “Dr. Google,” defines mental illnesses as conditions that affect our thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior in a way that affect our ability to relate to others and function normally each day. While genes and heredity are contributing factors, a large number of other reasons cause mental illness, ranging from environment, history of abuse, toxic chemicals, brain injuries, serious illnesses, isolation, and brain chemical imbalances.

“Dr. Google” also outlined different types of mental illness: 1) anxiety disorders, including panic and obsessive-compulsive disorder; 2) mood behaviors, such as depression and bipolar or manic-depressive disorder; 3) personality disorders, such as paranoia and antisocial behavior; 4) eating disorders, like bulimia; 5) psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia.

There is an old joke that says that when you are rich, they say you have a “brain chemical imbalance,” but when you are poor, you are “kuwang-kuwang.”

But in reality, mental disorders know no class distinctions. After all, a brain chemical imbalance simply means your brain lacks a particular brain chemical, more often than not, lacking serotonin. So kuwang-kuwang ra gihapon, di ba?

Our society’s biggest problem lies in the fact that there are many stigmas and much shame attached to mental health disorders, so much so that people hide it , even from their own doctors. Many parents live in a state of denial, not even considering the possibility that their children may have a mental disorder–not necessarily hereditary, but environmentally caused. It is said, for example, that excessive use of mobile phones and tablets often lead to isolation and mental imbalances.

I know of a person whom many in the city suspect of having an “antisocial personality disorder,” with the following symptoms: disregard for others’ needs or feelings (habitual?); persistent lying, stealing, conning others (corruption?); repeated violation of the rights of others (arrogance?); impulsive, aggressive or violent behavior (destruction of public property, perhaps?); lack of remorse for behavior (excuses! excuses!).

Yet unless people consider mental disorder as a possibility, then there is no end to the problem. Ignoring mental disorders only worsens a loved one’s condition until it becomes destructive or life threatening.

Another exacerbating factor to the rise in mental disorders is the lack of mental health professionals who can diagnose and treat these disorders, not only in Cebu but nationwide. One wonders how many psychiatrists we have compared to other specializations.

I do apologize to all the doctors and mental health professionals who are reading this, considering how deficient and inadequate this commentary may be. But we are earnest and sincere in bringing up the issues of mental health awareness and mental disorders in order to prevent senseless suicides, murders of 11-month-old babies and unbridled destruction of life and property.

It’s time stop the stigma and heal our minds and spirit.


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