It was easier to set aside and drown out unpleasant feelings before the pandemic than it is now, according to a mental health expert. Before all the restrictions and the fear of catching a virulent disease, we could simply shop or travel or drink our anxieties away.
“[But] now, we cannot shop, we cannot travel; we are forced to look inside ourselves,” says Dr. Honey Carandang, clinical psychologist and founder of the Mindfulness, Love, and Compassion Institute for Psychosocial Services, Inc.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many people’s mental health across the globe. Here at home, the National Center for Mental Health received more distressed calls per day since the pandemic started in March 2020, surging to as many as 700 a month from 400 within a six-month period a year before. During the third quarter of last year, the calls doubled to 1,400 a month.
“It is normal to be anxious during these abnormal times,” says Dr. Carandang.
While the circumstances are far from ideal, the psychologist sees the increase in people asking for help from experts as a good thing in terms of our openness to deal with our mental health problems.
“Because of the challenges of this pandemic, some good things happened – people were forced to talk about their feelings; the amount of people that consult with us has tripled,” she shares.
However, fundamental lack of understanding as well as prejudice and discrimination contribute to the stigma that still surrounds mental health. And it certainly doesn’t help when people dismiss the health issue as a “lack of faith” that can be “prayed away”.
These challenges discourage many to seek professional help. But Dr. Carandang cautions, “Mental health has a way of handling you if you don’t handle it.”
“It is very smart to know what’s going on inside you, to face it, to look at it, to own it, and to ask for help.”
To aid people seek the help they need, BYS Philippines celebrated its ninth anniversary by launching a website designed to help Filipinos gain access to a directory of mental health professionals and other resources that can empower them to take control of their own healing.
The website is called Break Your Stigma (breakyourstigma.com).
“We should normalize talking about mental health the way we talk about skin care,” says Angie Goyena, president of iFace, Inc., the exclusive distributor of BYS cosmetics and skincare in the Philippines.
Goyena continues, “It’s okay for your skin and your mental health to not be perfect. And to seek help for both. It’s as perfectly acceptable to have a psychiatrist as it is to have a dermatologist. If you don’t feel guilty when your skin or makeup isn’t flawless, you shouldn’t feel guilty when your mental health isn’t either.”
BYS Philippines has sought help from Dr. Carandang as well as from licensed psychologist Gisa Paredes of Healing Minds and the creative team of Where To Next for this initiative.
According to Goyena, the directory will be updated regularly and will soon offer more services including podcasts, sponsorships packages, and discounted – if possible, free – consultations.
“The vision we have for the website is not only to give access to people but also we will be negotiating and talking to the doctors if they can help patients by giving discounts and better fees. Next step is coming up with funds to sponsor patients who can’t afford help,” she says.
Break Your Stigma is the brand’s way to give everyone a safe and secure platform to seek help and to encourage those who need help to get it.
“If you don’t deal with it, you can have it for the rest of your life (not just during a stressful time like a pandemic),” says Dr. Carandang. “We have to deal with what’s inside of us. The only way out is in.”