On the evening of my first hospitalization, my parents came to visit me. They seemed angry, and my mom (who passed away last year) was in tears, I’m guessing because she was very image-conscious and didn’t want anyone to know that she had a daughter who has a mental illness.
At one point, my dad exclaimed, “Filipinos don’t have depression!” I was stunned, but not totally surprised. An April 2017 article (“We Need to Talk About Mental Illness in the Philippines”) in the Life/Culture section of CNNPhilippines.com, illustrates the Filipino attitude better than I can: there’s a cultural emphasis on “resilience and humor amidst pain and personal suffering.” I think my dad thought I should have been stronger and able to overcome how I felt. That was nearly 25 years ago, and I think he better understands mental illness — how it can affect anybody, and it isn’t something you can just “get over”. I’m happy to say that he’s a source of support.
My mother also came to understand depression, though not entirely. Years ago, my sister and I tried to convince her to seek family therapy with us (our relationship with her is a whole other story). She was angered when we brought it up, and said that “therapy is for crazy people” and that she wasn’t “the crazy one,” obviously implying that I was. I mean, I’d been in therapy since I was first in the hospital, after all. I was hurt and offended, and realized that the Filipino cultural stigma against mental illness was still a part of her.
The article mentioned above describes how the Philippines’ Magna Carta for Disabled Persons refers to all mental illness as “insanity.” Maybe that explains why my mom still felt that therapy is for “crazy people.” Well, guess what? Some Filipinos do have depression.