Filipinos Distrust of Mental Health

Mental Health, mental help, and mental illness are rarely discussed in Filipino culture. The reasons are because of shame and cultural mistrust of mental health field. 

Filipino Mental Health Stigma

I dislike the mental health stigma associated with the Filipino culture. My dad teases me when I take anti-depressants by circling his index finger near his ear, signaling that I’m crazy for taking medication. My mom repeatedly asks me when I’m going to stop taking medication because she believes that’s there may be bad long-term side effects.

I Don’t Like People Telling Me To Stop

The thing is I don’t want to stop because someone is telling me to stop. I like my medication therapy, I’m on the smallest dose, 10 mg, and the main adverse effects that I have from taking them are sleepiness and withdrawal symptoms if I skip a couple of days. I’m less anxious, and I don’t bite people’s head off as quickly.

Filipinos see Mental Illness as Shameful

I understand that in Filipino culture, mental illness is seen as shameful because it’s not well understood and it can be unpredictable. The view of mental illness in the Philippines is something that is not as critical as a physical illness. It’s something that you pull your bootstraps and get over. Hmmm, reminds me of a similar culture here in the states.

Cultural Mistrust and Mental Health Help-Seeking Attitudes Among Filipino Americans

According to a study entitled, “Cultural Mistrust and Mental Health Help-Seeking Attitudes Among Filipino Americans,” some of the barriers to Filipinos seeking psychological help were cultural mistrust, adherence to Asian social norms, and collectivism.

Cultural Mistrust

Cultural mistrust is a construct that describes the distrust among minorities of White Americans and mainstream American institutions. This includes the legal system, political system, government agencies, education system, and other entities that are staffed by White Americans.

Cultural Mistrust and Filipinos

Cultural mistrust relates to Filipinos and Filipino Americans because they too experienced oppression and unjust events at the hands of White Americans. Oppressive experiences of Filipinos with mainstream America go back to the 1900s when large numbers of them migrated and worked in the western states of California, Hawaii, Washington, and Alaska. They were considered U.S. nationals, but not U.S. citizens, resulting in brutal discrimination and mistreatment. It’s not surprising why there is Filipino cultural mistrust of Western ideas of mental health. After being discriminated for so long by the West, why trust them on their understanding?


Saving Face or Hiya (ē-ya)

In Filipino culture and other Asian cultures, there is an expression of saving face or in the Philippines, Hiya (ē-ya), which means the lengths that an individual may go to preserve their established position in society so that people will not think poorly of them.  One way Filipinos maintain face in light of mental illness is that they hide it from their loved ones. The consequences of being open about mental illness include being a pariah in one’s province. Filipinos, especially the older ones, are gossipy and they aren’t afraid to express their opinions. If I were in the Philippines and were out with my mental illness, there would be endless advice that I should hand over my problems to God and that my anxiety is something that will pass. That would push me to keep my illness a secret because I despise unwanted advice.



Collectivism is the concept where the group is more important than the individual. One person fucks up– that reflects on the rest of the group. There are positives with collectivism such as that people always have your back and that you work as a team.

Mental Illness and Collectivism

Regarding mental illness, collectivism can be a bad thing, especially if you’re living in a culture where there is a massive stigma towards it. In high school, it was tooth and nail to persuade my parents to put me in therapy. I had undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and they didn’t want me to go treatment because I would be talking to an outsider about my problems.

Keep Your Problems to Your Family

In the Asian culture, you keep your problems within the group– telling outsiders your problems means breaking trust. At nineteen, I broke down and hospitalized for two days. My parents, especially my mother, questioned herself about why she did wrong in her parenting. My parents told a few people that I went to the psych ward because they believe it poorly reflected on their raising of me. They didn’t want family members gossiping or advising them on what to do with me.

My Parents Need to Stop Teasing Me

Also, I want the stigma towards any therapy to end in the Filipino culture.  It will take a long time and that it’s a group effort, but I’m doing my part by being open about my mental illness and encouraging others to be open as well.

2 thoughts on “Filipinos Distrust of Mental Health

  1. Hi =)

    i came acorss you profile/ blog post after i searched for OCD treatments in the Philippines. Well, to be honest your post speaks true of the mental illness situation in the Philippines. If you don’t mind let me share with you my own personal struggle with OCD. It started way back when i was about 7 or 8, it started out with washing of hands repeatedly and as I grow older my OCD grows along with me (intrusive thoughts) specially when I pray. And boy, its a struggle that I have been facing for years. One thing that I am truly thankful is the support that I get from my family. They encourage me to see a Psychiatrist which I did twice and had some medications but decided to stop. Personally, my parents specially my dad is encouraging me to take meds since this is a sickness that I already have. He explained it to me that I have to accept that the OCD is a sickness that needs to be treated. But on my end, every time i try to see a psychiatrist i get this feeling of being stripped naked, the feeling of being exposed. Another thing is im afraid that if i start to take medications i might become dependent which i dont like to happen. So basically that’s my dilemma in not pushing through with medications. But Im still hoping for the best that ill get past through this.

    1. I appreciate you commenting. You are very lucky that you have parents that support you in getting help for your mental illness. The thing with going to a psychiatrist and/or therapist is that they are trying to figure out the root of the mental illness, so it’s not surprising why you may feel emotionally naked. I look at medication similarly to the way I look at eyeglasses. If you can’t see, you would use eyeglasses. If you’re OCD is so overwhelming that daily life is unmanageable, that’s where medication comes into play. Thank you for your story though.

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