Having mental illness is difficult in itself, but what truly makes it harder is the fact that most men don’t even admit to themselves that they might have one.
“A sign that you suffer from mental illness is when your moods and emotional states affect your functionality,” says Dr. Ryan Rabago, MD DSBPP.
Being matatag and malakas in the face of adversity is ingrained in our culture to the point that we’ve convinced ourselves that we can power through anything, which can honestly be a very positive trait when it comes to work ethic or volunteering, but when left unchecked, can become dangerous.
Sadly, most mental health cases are left unchecked because of several factors that are intrinsically part of the lifestyle of Filipino men. Men have always been portrayed in literature and media as malakas, laging maasahan, and hindi nagpapatalo. This ideal has been set for us by previous generations and enforced by our parents and role models since we were just young impressionable boys.
Joseph, a 23-year-old law student, has always been raised to be a “man.” He says: “Personally, I’m still pressured to keep up the manly facade for the sake of keeping my family and friends happy. Most of my friends are dudebros and I have a dad who's always expected me to be tough and 'wag bakla.' When he found out that I may be depressive, he obviously didn't know how to react. He couldn’t look me in the eyes for a couple of weeks.”
A lot of men with mental health issues find it difficult to maintain healthy relationships with people. Most of them complain about constant mood swings that turn into confusion and anger towards everything including themselves. “A lot of people know me as a typical quiet, kupal but mabait kind of dude, but the funny thing is, a lot of the stereotypical male quirks like being malandi, being aggressive, being lasenggo, I feel, are just manifestations of my mental problems. Growing up believing that having mental issues is a sign of weakness and being weak isn’t manly and that’s why I hate talking about my feeling to people I’m not close with,” adds Joseph.
This idea and mentality that men have to be the strong-willed providers of society puts undue pressure on them to perform and at the same time limit themselves to what society deems acceptable. In a similar way to how women are supposed to be mahinhin and dependent on men for all their needs, gender-roles that are imposed by cultural norms dehumanize and limit our growth as individuals.
Gab, a 27-year-old freelance graphic artist and humanitarian volunteer speaks of his bipolar episodes. “I come from a family of businessmen and most of my immediate family disapproves of my girlfriend because of her passions in life. We were blockmates in business management in college. I never wanted to go into business because what I really wanted to do was paint. She convinced me to pursue my passions and I switched to fine arts. But my parents would never approve of my partner earning more than me so they discontinued their financial support for my studies.
"This drove me into extreme depression for the months that I was on a leave of absence from college. After those traumatic experiences, I’ve been having episodes of unbearable sadness that would span from days to months even during times when I should technically be happy. My family eventually told me to move out because they said I was being a burden and disgrace to them. The sad part is sometimes I believe them.”
Dr. Rabago inappropriate guilt, anxiety, and irrational fear that men with mental issues suffer from come from their inability to convey their emotions in a positive and honest fashion. It’s so easy to believe that there isn’t anyone out there that would care to listen to us because the stigma of mental illness is still very much prevalent in our culture.
“Sometimes people displace the true cause of their anxiety because they’re scared or embarrassed to admit to them," he says. "Unresolved issues of the past can trigger depression which usually confuses people who are presently living happy lives suddenly become melancholic."
Moses, a 25-year-old high school teacher, shares his qualms with society’s view on the importance of mental health. “Palaging may hesitance ang middle to lower-middle class to having psychological check-ups and it’s mostly due to financial reasons. So kadalasan ang first option ay ang pagtiis ng nararanasan, especially if you’re a guy. Ang mahirap pa nga sa mental illnesses ay hindi apparent yung repercussions. So talagang hindi nabibigyan ng halaga kung ikukumpara sa ibang bagay kasi hindi ganoon kakongkreto katulad ng kakulangan sa pagkain o gamot [sa physical illnesses.] Mas pagtutuunan ng pansin yung kongkretong problema at solusyon kasi doon daw may siguradong may patutunguhan ang paggastos.”
There’s always a reason why men postpone going to the psychiatrist: We can’t find time in our busy schedules; we don’t want other people knowing that we can’t handle our personal issues; it’s too expensive; and a whole lot of other reasons.
In short, men’s mental health was never a priority. It will never be spoken of in you inuman sessions as much as other problems like how dumb your boss is or how awful your relationship with your girlfriend is going. Your family and friends will never understand what you’re going through and why you’ve suddenly become distant from them.
Everything will never be okay unless we finally take notice of the gigantic elephant in the dark corner of the room and finally see mental illness as a problem worth looking at and talking about.
The Philippine Psychology Act of 2009 was passed which licenses the practice of psychology, it’s the same as going to any kind of medical doctor. It lessens the stigma of going to seek counseling because it recognizes that psychological illnesses are real and as detrimental to your health as physical illnesses.