A 2012 World Happiness Report has reportedly ranked the Philippines “among the least happiest in Southeast Asia, or 103rd out of 155 surveyed countries worldwide.” That bit of news should be as welcome as a skin rash to advocates of the Philippine tourism slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines”. It could actually lead them to a depressive state, which could slightly increase the number of Filipinos who are suffering from depression.
Incidentally, the country also “has the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia, according to the Department of Health (DOH).” 2011 data from the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that “the Philippines has the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia with 93 suicides for every 100,000 Filipinos.”
Depression is a serious issue that Filipinos need to address. But like with most serious issues facing the nation, most Filipinos tend to just shrug it off as inconsequential. Some would even insist that the study must be inaccurate because they truly believe that Filipino “resilience” can be attributed to the people’s happy-go-lucky nature despite the disasters — both natural and man-made — they have suffered.
But we Filipinos need to get real. We all know that life in the Philippines can be stressful even at the best of times. This is true even for some of those who live in exclusive gated communities. It is evident in the way famous actors like Claudine Barreto and husband Raymart Santiago got involved in a brawl with equally-famous media personality Ramon Tulfo, just because they felt frustration over the poor service of an airline and the latter’s alleged invasion of their privacy. No one is safe from kabwisitan in the Philippines.
We all know that behind the facade of smiley faces, most Filipinos have their own collection of tales of woes ready to be told. From one’s daily harrowing experience on the road going to and from work dodging potholes and irritable, unruly motorists who, if you are lucky, may even slap you in the face or if you are unlucky, may lodge a bullet in your brain. Even more distressing is the experience of dealing with neighbors who find a way to invade your privacy in the most blatant way possible; or for some, dealing with relatives who give new meaning to the word mooching. Experiencing these things on a regular basis could drive people over the edge, indeed.
One of the ways to counter being sad or depressed is being true to yourself. This means we need to collectively admit where we constantly get it wrong. Understanding why some Filipinos feel depressed may help overcome the problem. A physician could prescribe medication for those proven to have clinical depression. However, in most cases, medication can only mask the underlying issue of Filipinos’ inability to be accountable for their own actions. It will not address the root of the problem. If you voted for President BS Aquino in the last presidential election for example, you need to share the blame in the way the country is being mismanaged by your choice of leader. If he ends up running the country to the ground, it can only be because you did not take concrete steps to ensure that he performs to the best of his abilities.
What could be making Filipinos feel depressed? Feelings of helplessness and overall frustration over the lack of progress in their personal lives back-dropped by the lack of progress of their country can indeed make some Filipinos feel depressed. The current crop of leaders in the country headed by President BS Aquino is likely contributing much to making a lot of people feel depressed. A lot of people think that he is turning the Philippines into a vindictive society particularly with the way he persecutes his political enemies. This makes people feel generally “unsafe” because they think that if they do not support the President or criticize him, he might come after them too — which could be part of the reason why most Filipinos tend to shy away from politics. This is why you always here some say in resignation, “wala tayong magagawa.”
Likewise, it’s been said that some people describe depression as “living in a black hole or having a feeling of impending doom. However, some depressed people don’t feel sad at all–they may feel lifeless, empty, and apathetic.” That aptly describes the behavior of some Filipinos. No wonder Filipinos in general feel apathetic towards the problems that plagued the nation. They could be indifferent because they are depressed.
Unfortunately, this is an issue that is difficult to address because to counter depression, the individual needs to be more proactive. But how can a depressed individual be proactive if he feels empty and helpless? It’s a chicken and egg situation.
Family support can help an individual cope with stress but with more and more Filipinos leaving for work abroad, dysfunctional family units have become the norm. This increases the likelihood of many Filipinos, especially children, feeling displaced or feeling alone.
In a society ruled by the so-called padrino system, equal opportunity for everyone is virtually non-existent. Those who are not well-connected are left out because those who have associations with the right people are the ones who tend to move up the social or corporate ladder. Our clannish mentality results in unhealthy non-inclusive competition thereby perpetually creating an atmosphere of resentment. Again, the incumbent President BS Aquino has demonstrated many times that if one is not well-connected; it is nearly impossible to get an important position in the private and especially the public sector.
Some other common signs and symptoms of depression are the following.
Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
[Photo courtesy Manila Times.]
Indeed, the above signs and symptoms generally apply to a lot of Filipinos. It could be the reason why the country remains one of Asia’s basketcase. Instead of actively participating in the running of the country, most Filipinos engage in “escapist” behavior, which also includes too much partying and watching “telenovelas”. Instead of directing their pent up frustration towards their public servants, they take it out on innocent bystanders on the road and everyone else except the people who make a mockery out of our institutions in government.
If only Filipinos can realize that being more active in politics can actually make them happy, feelings of depression could go away. As a recent study shows, “participants who scored higher in political activism also reported higher levels of personal well-being.”
Specifically, political activism scores were associated with feeling more pleasant emotions, reporting greater life satisfaction, and having more experiences of freedom, competence, and connection to others. Our application of past research on “psychological thriving” further showed that 28 percent of the politically active adults had reached this highest level of well-being, compared to 18 percent of the community sample.
Our results suggest that it might also be worthwhile to highlight the internal rewards citizens can obtain from being politically engaged: A sense of satisfaction, the experience of pleasant emotions and of connection with others, and a feeling of aliveness.
In other words, criticizing our public servants can make Filipinos happy. Unfortunately, instead of encouraging the rest of the public to engage in politics, our own politicians seem to want us to stop criticizing them by passing the Cybercrime Law. This can only increase the number of frustrated and depressed Filipinos for sure.
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