Do we need to talk about mental health? Yes. But are there times when comments about mental health are better left unsaid? Yes, definitely.
Take Ricky Lo’s Philippine Star article last January, where he casually connected the JaDine breakup with Nadine Lustre’s mental health issues, writing “According to a Star source, James is handling the breakup with care to cushion the impact on Nadine who has admitted grappling with mental illness ([s]he has a brother who committed suicide).”The showbiz columnist’s comment prompted a nationwide backlash from advocates, who maintained that mental health is a sensitive issue and, therefore, deserving of discretion.
As of writing, this particular section was taken down from the article.
It doesn’t end there. When Nadine responded to Lo, Jobert Sucaldito rebutted, once again bringing her mental condition into the conversation. “Di ba iyon naman ang gusto nila? Kuno-kuno na may mga labas ng puwet, naka T-back pa doon sa building, tapos may mga nakalagay na caption na parang gustong tumalon sa building. Sana tumalon nalang kung ganun din naman pala.”
[ trigger warning: suicide ]
"Parang gustong tumalon… edi sana tumalon na lang."
Words are so powerful that it can cost a life. I hope that influential people can learn to emphatize with those who are struggling with their mental health. #SuicideIsNotAJokeJobert https://t.co/KZ6GUN0aUr
— roanne (@razcarreon) January 8, 2020
So the #SuicideIsNotAJokeJobert trended on Twitter, prompting an apology — terse, if not scripted — from the columnist.
Mental health issues are similar to serious medical problems — you don’t haphazardly share the details with people who aren’t supposed to be privy to that information. Healthy discussions require tact and decency. Without sensitivity or cold-hard facts, we do more harm than good and feed the stigma, instead of fight it.
There are times when it’s better to shut up and leave mental health out of the conversation.
When It’s Not Your Story to Tell
It’s tempting to share fascinating trivia about people. It gives the character more color and makes the conversation more interesting. Trust me, we’ve all been there. We’ve all been in situations where we divulged details we’re not supposed to divulge and shared more than we were entitled to share.
This behavior, however, is best unlearned and left in 2019. The mental state of one person is not our story to tell (unless the person explicitly expressed that it’s okay to share his or her conditions). Whether it’s a friend or a family member, we’re not supposed to broadcast sensitive health problems that aren’t ours.
A lot of people may be comfortable sharing their issues, but it’s safe to assume that no one wants their inner turmoil open for all the world to see.
When You’re Not Sure How to Report the Facts
Let’s say a friend has permitted you to talk about his or her mental condition.
Understand that you have a certain responsibility when it comes to talking about the issue. Words are powerful, and public conversations impact policy. The way you relay information affects how other people treat and interact with your friend.
If you’re not sure how to explain the condition without harming the person’s reputation or skewing the discussion, then table the talk for another day.
In the meantime, explore ways you can delicately handle the topic:
Separate the Person from the Problem
The danger of using blanket descriptors (“bipolar,” “schizophrenic,” etc.) is that they identify the people by only their health problem. The officemate becomes “’yung bipolar” or the cousin becomes “’yungschizo.”Suddenly, the mental condition becomes his or her entire identity.
The healthier way to go about it is to focus on the person. Instead of saying “He’s bipolar,” we say, “He has bipolar disorder.” Instead of “She’s schizophrenic,” we say “She has schizophrenia.”
This way, we won’t forget that there are other things that make up the person other than his or her health issues. This is the same officemate who trained you in the workplace processes, and the same cousin who, for example, bought you your favorite toy for Christmas.
Steer Clear of Slang
Filipino words like “baliw” or “sintu-sinto”may have referred to people who have serious mental issues, but they are an oversimplified description for a complex and varied group of disorders. The danger of using these terms is that we overlook the medical nuances and lump everyone into the one category of helpless individuals.
There’s widespread use of these terms, but it’s best not to inject them into the conversation. There are concrete, well-defined terms that present the problem as it is.
When It’s Not Relevant to the Discussion
Lastly, if mental health doesn’t add anything to the conversation — other than intrigue or drama — best to leave it out.
As Nadine stressed in her response to Ricky Lo, “It’s never okay to use someone’s mental situation/tragic past just to prove a point.”
While discussing the break-up, the columnist stated that James Reid handled the breakup carefully to protect Nadine, who is “grappling with mental illness.” To take it even further, he added that Nadine’s brother committed suicide.
If the article is discussing an alleged break-up, I don’t think it’s necessary to bring up the mental states of either party, more so a family tragedy.
If the title of the article is “A Case of Too Much, Too Soon” wouldn’t it be better to present instances about how living together put a strain on their relationship? Instead of focusing on the alleged aftermath (James’ protectiveness over Nadine’s well-being), isn’t it better to devote more words to substantiating the break-up?
When you wield considerable influence, you need to be careful of the points you present. Mental health is a sensitive issue—it’s not a random trivia you throw around to add color to a story.
Yes, we need to talk about mental health. But it must be handled tactfully, speaking with regard to the feelings of the people involved. If we’re not entitled to share the information, if we’re not sure how to handle the facts, or if mental health is irrelevant to the discussion, then it’s best to keep mum. Sometimes, silence can be an effective method to dispel the stigma.