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. 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 negative effects that I have from taking them are sleepiness and withdrawal symptoms if I skip couple of days. I’m less anxious and I don’t bite people’s head off as quickly.
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 simplistic, it’s seen as something that is not as critical as a physical illness. It’s something that you pull your bootstraps and get over. Hmmm…Kinda reminds me of a similar culture here in the states.
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 is a construct that was conceptualized to describe the distrust among African Americans of White Americans and mainstream American institutions that include the legal system, political system, government agencies, education system, and other entities that are staffed by White Americans. This 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?
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 badly of them. One way Filipinos preserve face in light of mental illness is that they hide it from their loved ones. The consequences of being open about mental illness could mean being abandoned or 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 was in the Philippines, and was 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. This is a common social norm in minorities, especially in the Asian culture. One person fucks up- the rest of the group is fucked. There are positives with collectivism such as that people always have your back and that you work as a team. In regard to mental illness, collectivism can be a bad thing, especially if you’re living in a culture where there is a huge 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 therapy because I would be talking to an outsider about my problems. In the Asian culture, you keep your problems within the group- telling outsiders your problems means breaking trust. At nineteen, I broke down and was hospitalized for two days. My parents, especially my mother, questioned herself on why she did wrong in her parenting. Being hospitalized reflected badly on my family, and they told few people that I got sick. They didn’t want family members gossiping or advising them what to do with me.
I want my parents to stop teasing me about my mental illness. I want the stigma towards any type of therapy, whether it’s talk therapy or medication therapy, to end in the Filipino culture. I know that 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.