I was taught as a kid to avoid what the society called as crazy ones or “baliw” in our language. Those homeless people who mutter to themselves, alone. Senselessly roaming as if endless that I can see them anywhere in the town. I was afraid of them because that’s what I was made to believe. Fear them because they’re dangerous and violent, and you may never know what they’ll do to you. With my young mind, I believed it.
As I turn older, but not old enough yet, perceptions towards them changed around me. They’re not to be feared anymore, but to be laughed about. I didn’t bother the change much. I admit, though a shame, I once joined in their jokes too. I’m not proud of what I did, but I learned from it.
Now, I finally understand it-them. I won’t disagree that they are somehow dangerous, but mostly to themselves and not to others. Dangerous but not in a way that should be scared of and discriminated. They once had control in their thoughts and had a grip in reality. Once had a shelter and a family that supported them. They all have stories worth knowing-maybe even inspiring. They once lived a normal life like us. They’re just severely sick. What they need is proper treatment, not judgements.
Now because of this personal advocacy, I get to know people who were clinically diagnosed with schizophrenia, and really believe me they’re far from all the stereotypes the society knows. Even though people with schizophrenia or other mental illness may do unpredictable things at unpredictable times, they’re mostly aren’t violent, especially if they’re getting treatments. Those who are violent usually have another condition like substance abuse and aren’t treated.
It’s just sad that a person who has physical illness has only one label like person with tumor or person with cancer. But when it comes to mental illness, there’s ‘sira ulo,’ ‘sinto sinto,’ ‘maluwag ang turnilyo,’ and other several improper and stigmatizing words. And what’s more bothering is we usually hear these words inside our house, from our own family.
I also always hear people call someone crazy so easily just because someone did something unusual. I know calling others like that seems like a normal thing for most family, but that isn’t right. Let’s change that. In a household, you don’t teach children to call someone crazy. Teach them to be compassionate toward other kids and older ones instead. Let’s teach them to be conscious with the words they use.
Change almost always starts in the house. Be that someone who will begin it. Encourage one by one in your family to help break the stigma in mental health. If we all do that, that would be a great thing for all of us.
Here are some mental health resources you can check to educate yourself about mental illness and the current state of mental health in the Philippines. Because breaking the stigma begins with educating one’s self, and the people close to you.