January 29, 2023

Stella Maria L. de Guia
The Covid-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm. Quarantine and lockdown became two dreaded words. Being confined to restricted spaces for long periods of time and not be able to go out produces a certain kind of restlessness. Baguio City Police Office Director Col. Allen Rae Co has mentioned in a recent local news that the spike of suicide cases is similar to “cabin fever.”
According to research, “cabin fever” refers to the distressing claustrophobic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended period of time.” Most affected by quarantine are those under 21 and above 60 years of age, the vulnerable ones.
Hence, it is important to discuss mental illness awareness, to know the prevalent signs, and how to fight it.
“Mental illness awareness means bringing down the walls of stigma by sharing experiences, stories and truths. It means educating others on what mental illness really is, and helping those with illnesses know they are not alone,” Lade Jean Kabagani said.
In Baguio, one of the volunteer groups spreading awareness on mental health during this pandemic is “Keep Going; Baguio” or KGB, a non-stock, non-profit organization in the making. This group of young and dynamic mental health advocates and conveners are composed of Freneil “Aki” Reyes, Loffy Bermejo, and Leslie Dulfo.
They are friends of Mark Hamada who discovered their notable mission while doing his Baguio Midland Courier duties. The conveners were later joined by psychologists Myra Gahid and Shinx Hombrebueno, entertainer Nathan Santos and other new volunteers. This support group includes patients, caregivers or carers, psychologists and other medical health professionals. They strongly affirm however that they are a support group and “do not offer medical help but rather collaborate and refer cases to health professionals on board the team “Keep Going ; Baguio” and other mental health professionals.
Their goals are: 1.) to inspire light and love 2.) raise the level of mental awareness through various events, programs and campaigns, 3.) know the signs 4.) actively support the journey of people with mental difficulties or issues towards a better quality of life and promote their rights through appropriate programs and campaigns and 5.) promote better access to high quality, community based, culturally sensitive and integrated mental health services, 6.) promote a supportive environment after recovery 7.) eradicate the stigma attached to mental illness and a better understanding of it through a well-informed citizenry.
Their projects include virtual meet-up (VMU) or online support platform via Zoom every Sunday. They are encouraging creative expressions like singing, poetry, writing, comedy and other performing arts. Likewise, promoting volunteerism from artists and other performers to share skills and talents through their programs “saLOOBin” and paglaLAYAG” in the form of “open mic” events. “Open mic as defined is a live show at a coffeehouse, nightclub, comedy club, strip club, institution or pub at which audience members who are amateur or professional may perform, often for the first time, or promote an upcoming performance, are given the opportunity to perform onstage.”
KGB also sell KGB goods and products, Podcasts found in Spotify, Anchor.fm, Google Podcasts, etc. A mental health run was also sponsored in October 2019 participated in by 100 runners who came together to celebrate friendships. If you want to know more about them or want to volunteer, please visit their Keep Going; Baguio Facebook account.
“I encountered “Keep Going; Baguio” when I was slowly going back to writing,” says psychologist Myra Gahid.
“When the pandemic hit, I found myself looking for like-minded people who were proactive as me in creating events that can address mental health issues. I wanted to provide them with access to a community that accepts them for who they are. We have started a movement to educate people and to provide a safe space for people to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Eventually, our ultimate goal is to help people with mental health concerns to be employed. We are still encouraging interested individuals to be a part of the team and our advocacy. We have our own roles to play in the Mental Health Law,” she added.
Malacañang recently approved its first Mental Health Act (Republic Act 11036). The Act seeks to establish access to comprehensive and integrated mental health services, while protecting the rights of people with mental disorders and their family members. Relative to this, Association of Barangay Captains President Michael Lawana has filed a resolution asking for a Sunday out for minors and said it will be healthy for minors to go out with guardians on Sundays in the city. The resolution was approved during the regular council session but will need the final approval of City Mayor Benjie Magalong.
Likewise, Councilor Vladimir Cayabas has also filed a resolution urging national offices of the Department of Education, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and the Commission on Higher Education to fast track the integration of mental health education in the curriculum.
Mental Health Awareness Week is usually celebrated in the month of May. This year’s theme ‘kindness’ endeavors to applaud thousands of acts of kindness, understanding and appreciation that are so important to mental health. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is part of this. It is also represented by the color green because green is the color of nature, tranquility, good luck, healing and health.
Lastly, Jean Kabagani says, “It is important to recognize the signs mental health illness: long-lasting sadness or irritability, extremely high and low moods, extreme fear, worry or anxiety, social withdrawal and dramatic changes in eating and sleeping habits. Depression and anxiety are two of the most prevalent mental health disorders. For other mental awareness groups, look for Saint Louis University Active Minds and SLU Sunflower Children’s Center.
Aristotle Onassis once said, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”