Do you know that mental health issues are treatable 80 percent to 90 percent of the time?

This was revealed by Dr. Maria Teresa Gustilo-Villasor, a renowned clinical psychologist specializing in child and adolescent psychology, family ministries, and pastoral counseling.

The esteemed psychologist was the speaker during the recent parenting talk organized by the Davao Christian High School Parents-Teachers Fellowship entitled “HELP (Heed Emotions, Love Perfectly) – Family Mental Health and Wellness: Emerging Issues Today” held at the DCHS (V. Mapa Campus) Auditorium.

Gustilo-Villasor, whose clinic is located at the Makati Medical Center, advised parents to vigilantly watch for signs that show problems in their kids’ mental health, particularly depression, especially in its early stage.

They may manifest as “sadness or hopelessness; irritability, anger or hostility; tearfulness or frequent crying; withdrawal from friends and family; loss of interest in activities; changes in eating and sleeping habits; restlessness and agitation; fatigue or lack of energy; unexplained physical complaints such as headaches or stomachaches; thoughts of death or suicide; among others.”

State of well-being

According to the World Health Organization, “mental health is a state of well-being where a person can realize his or her abilities to cope with normal stresses of life and work productively.”

The Ateneo de Manila University alumna explained that there are contributing factors to mental health. These include biochemistry where differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to depression symptoms; genetics; personality; relationships; and environmental factors such as exposure to violence, neglect, and abuse which makes a person vulnerable to depression.

On the other hand, stress is described as “the body’s physical, mental, and chemical reaction to perceived disruptions which arises when one perceives a challenge, threat, or harm”. However, not everyone can effectively deal with the normal stresses of life. And the negative effects may accumulate over time resulting in the wear and tear of the body and mind. Alarmingly, Gustilo-Villasor disclosed that “70 percent to 90 percent of people who visit doctors have stress-related disorders”. The uncontrolled stress has been found to contribute to several medical problems like “cardiovascular disease, cancer, migraine, arthritis, allergy, asthma, psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, and even frequent cold and flu”.

The 4 Ls

To monitor our kids’ mental health, Gustilo-Villasor said that parents must “look, listen, learn, and link.”

“Look means to observe and watch out for unusual behavior; irregularity of sleep/eating; relationships; manner of dress; physical appearance; weight loss or gain; pallor; scratches on arms and legs; and speech whether it is slurred, rapid or slow,” she detailed.

Next is to listen or communicate. Gustilo-Villasor cautioned parents to avoid asking why. She also encouraged us to minimize statements like “You have nothing to be upset about”; “What is wrong with you?”; “Are you looking for attention?”; and the like.

Third is to learn where the importance of the family in human development is underscored. She said that the family is a source of support and comfort but can also trigger friction as well as physical, mental, emotional, and social problems. In addition, once the primary support of the child, “the family now shows traces of stress, marked by substantial levels of absentee parenting and unstable marital unions.”

She emphasized that we must manage big emotions by following these five steps. “First, remind oneself that it is never okay to hurt others. Second, take three deep breaths or count slowly to 10. Third, use “my” words to say how one feels and wishes would happen. Fourth, ask for help to solve the problem. And, lastly, take time to calm down,” Gustilo-Villasor said.

Finally, parents must learn to link or when to refer and consult a professional especially when these are observed: when a child hints openly of suicide or homicide; any indication of a medical emergency; the possibility of abuse, or any criminal activity; among others.

It’s okay to not be okay

Gustilo-Villasor stressed that consulting a psychologist should be considered when dealing with mental health problems. This is because the physical and emotional turmoil brought on by mental health concerns can derail careers, hobbies, and relationships. “After an assessment, mental health issues can benefit from the interventions,” she points out.

To maintain mental health, she used the acronym HENS which stands for hygiene, exercise, nutrition, and sleep. “Remember, not to self-medicate and avoid alcohol. Have regular physical activity as it releases endorphins (also known as the happy hormones). Sleep regularly and observe a healthy diet,” Gustilo-Villasor recommended.

“Mental health and well-being are important because it promotes healthier lifestyles, better physical health, improved recovery from illness, higher educational attainment, and an overall improved quality of life,” she explained.

The parenting talk concluded with an engaging Q and A that openly tackled timely issues. With her wealth of experience, the audience was indeed blessed with her no-nonsense approach and refreshing take on pressing matters.

Real talk, indeed!