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R U OK? Shedding light on stigmas around mental health among Filipinos

I was heavily bullied at school, and at some point, my normal routine of burying my head in a book failed. Source: Getty Images

While depression remains a taboo for many Filipino-Australians, Queensland-based GP Dr Earl Pantillano says it's time to break the stigma of mental illness.

According to mental health organisation Beyond Blue, depression is one of the most common mental disorders in Australia affecting about one million Australian adults in a year. It can strike anytime, regardless of age, gender, and race.

For many Filipino-Australians, having a conversation about mental health issues is often uncomfortable and in the worst case, it is taboo. Queensland based GP, Dr Earl Pantillano says fears of being labelled as ‘crazy’ and bringing shame to family made Filipinos hesitant to seek help from mental health professionals.

“Filipinos are still a bit conservative [when it comes to mental illness]. We think and tell others to sleep the depression off and even discriminate their condition instead of helping them."

He adds, depression is a mental health problem that should be taken seriously, and now is the time to break the stigma of mental illness.

Feeling sad or having a depressed mood

Dr Earl Pantillano shares that sadness is a normal human emotion every person will experience at stressful moments. 

"If you still do the normal things such as socialising with people and friends, or working after your dog died then it is just a depressed mood."

But if the sadness gets worse or lasts longer than two weeks, then this could be a sign of depression, he adds.

"The differentiating factors when it comes to mental illness are the symptoms and duration of the sadness. If the sadness causes you to not function properly, become unmotivated, unhappy and unable to sleep properly then it can be a disorder." 

Getty Images/amenic181
The inability to sleep, eat, function normally and lack of interest in things may indicate depression.
Getty Images/amenic181

Symptoms of depression

Dr Pantillano says the symptoms of depression interfere with all areas of life, including work and social relationships. 

The constant feeling of sadness and people withdrawal can be a sign of mild depression. The inability to sleep, eat and function normally and the loss of interest in activities may indicate a moderate form of depression. Having thoughts about suicide or self-harm may be a sign of severe depression.

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The symptoms of depression interfere with all areas of a person's life, including work and social relationships.
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Depression is treatable

Dr Pantillano says although depression is incurable, there are ways to treat it depending on its severity.

Some people are helped by taking medication for a while; others may need it on an ongoing basis. The pills that are usually prescribed can help neutralise and balance the hormones.

"When you are sad, negative hormones rise in the brain. The action of the medication prescribed by the doctor will balance and neutralise the hormones so you will become more positive."

Psychological counselling such as cognitive behavioural, interpersonal, problem solving and short-term psychodynamic therapies are forms of mental illness treatment that can be accessed through a psychologist.

"The psychologist will give you activities and will conduct counselling so they can figure out the cause of your problem and what triggers your sadness. They will also give you strategies to help you address your negative emotions." 

Most importantly, Dr Pantillano stresses the importance of community such as getting help from friends and family, joining support groups and having a healthy lifestyle.

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Get help from friends and family, join support groups and have a healthy lifestyle.
Get help from friends and family, join support groups and have a healthy lifestyle.
SBS Filipino

Are you okay?

Whilst most people do not open up about their mental health issues, he says that a simple “Are you okay?” may help sufferers speak up about their condition and if they do open up, ask them about the steps they're doing to address it and encourage them to get help.

Friday, September 12 marks R U OK Day, which is an initiative focusing on mental health awareness.

Get help and stand against mental illness discrimination

Dr Pantillano believes that sufferers should not be discriminated and he urges those who are going through mental health challenges to get help, stand up and speak up.

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, you can call Lifeline at any time on 13 11 14.

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