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Let’s talk about mental health

By MAE COYIUTO, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 29, 2020 5:00 pm

Growing up, I had close to zero knowledge about mental health. The only concept I had of talking to a therapist was seeing TV shows and movies where the main character would lie down on a couch and vent. “Depressed” was a word my friends threw around often and the closest I came to talking about my feelings was posting The Script lyrics on my YM status saying, “I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing.” 

So, on World Mental Health Day a few weeks ago, it felt revolutionary to see so many people talk openly about therapy, medication, anxiety, depression, and all these things kept in the dark for so long. But while I felt a big change in the conversation, I kept wondering: where do we go from here? When all attention is focused on protecting our physical health, how do we make sure that everyone is keeping their mental health in check? 

In my research, I came across Kana Takahashi and her work with MindNation. A UST psychology graduate, Kana has been a strong advocate for feminism, human rights and mental health. Together with her best friend CJ Sabangan, they built MindNation, an organization devoted to emphasizing mental wellness in the workplace and making mental health services accessible to all Filipinos. We talked to Kana about MindNation, her own mental health journey, and her advice for supporting others.

Kana Takahashi, Co-founder and CEO of MindNation

YOUNG STAR: Did you realize mental health was important from a young age? 

KANA TAKAHASHI: It actually started when I went to college because I experienced this sudden load of academic requirements that I wasn’t used to. It affected me to a point where I didn’t have the energy to deal with my day-to-day life. I took up Abnormal Psychology and we learned what causes mental health issues, what are the common problems — then, it was like a checklist in my head. “Oh, my God. I’m feeling the majority of these things.” That’s when I started researching more on mental health advocacy. 

How did MindNation start? 

One night, my best friend and I had our usual catch-up session. We were sitting there, contemplating our first jobs out of college, thinking that we weren’t fulfilled. He mentioned that his former company had a really toxic work environment, which sadly is the case for many big traditional companies in the country. Working overtime and having a lot on your plate automatically relates to how productive you are. I mentioned that the Mental Health Law was recently passed but how schools, companies, and communities in the Philippines don’t have their own mental health programs. It then became our passion project until we realized this was what we wanted to do for the next few years.

What’s the usual demographic for your clients at MindNation? 

We work with companies that we call our partners and we also recently started partnering with educational institutions. Outside our partners, we also do pro bono work so, as much as possible, we offer free consultations to the public. Recently, we did one for the members of the LGBT community, healthcare workers and retrenched employees.

How does someone seek your services?

You just message our Facebook page and someone will be there to attend to you! We also understand people have preferences for who they want to talk to. We match people and professionals according to preferred mode of communication (audio, SMS, video), gender, age, and also through the initial concern they came to us for. For example, if their concern is anxiety over financial stability, we match them with a professional whose expertise lies in that specific issue.

Have you seen a shift in how the country views mental health? 

We are more open in talking about mental health, but we need to work on action. Actual programs that help people instead of just driving awareness. I think our communities, barangays, schools and companies should have mental health policies. Check on your employees, students, from time to time. Develop programs fit to every population present. 

How do you talk to someone who isn’t familiar with the concept of “mental health”? 

When people talk about mental health, they tend to only focus on the problems/issues. When you need to explain mental health to a person or a child, you need to start by saying mental health is everything. It’s a range of emotions. If you’re happy, that’s mental health. If you’re sad, that’s mental health. Every emotion you feel is mental health.

How do you take care of yourself? 

The first step I do is to acknowledge my feelings. Whatever I’m feeling right now, I tell myself it’s okay to feel that way. You have to allow yourself time to express what you’re feeling. This could be through journaling or talking to other people, channeling your emotions into something creative like art. Second is to stay connected. Social distancing is not the same as emotional distancing. Spending time with people even virtually can bring us a sense of comfort and stability. Lastly, know when to seek professional help. There’s no shame in knowing you need support.

How do you answer people who don’t see mental health issues as valid and say, “We just learned to suck it up back in our day”? 

In my experience, you just have to lay out the facts. Maybe the concept of mental health didn’t exist before because the movement did not exist back then. Right now, we’re lucky that research on mental health is extensive and is available everywhere. Spell it out that mental health issues happen because of this, because of that. This is the cause, these are the signs and symptoms, the statistics. People like facts. They like being educated about things that already exist. 

A common response I hear to someone struggling with mental health issues is people saying magdasal ka nalang. Do you have advice on how to approach this?

It’s really education. When someone says magdasal ka nalang, there are other ways. You don’t invalidate their point. Say, “Okay, I will try that,” but also say there are other ways I can deal with how I’m feeling. It’s really about giving them other perspectives. 

What are your biggest dreams? 

In terms of my personal growth, I want to continue my studies in psychology. Hopefully I’ll do my master’s in social psychology and, hopefully, a PhD. My biggest dream for MindNation is to have a future where all Filipinos have access to mental healthcare. Mental health is physical health, so now is the time to put it into action. We want it to be a standard for companies and schools to take care of their people. The goal is to start a conversation that will drive action so we can take care of the most valuable asset: the people.

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Banner image by Nica Silva