Why I’m glad I went to therapy: Mental health care in the Philippines

Hello, fellow human!

Below I’ll be sharing some thoughts on my mental health and the care I’ve received in the Philippines. Over the past few years, I would say that information and discussion on mental health in the PH (at least in my city experience) has increased tenfold. I know we have a long way to go but I am so happy about how far we’ve come. I hope you can stay a while and contribute to the discussion, which can hopefully encourage more to talk about their own experiences and seek the help they need.

This post will focus more on the health care I’ve received. I didn’t want to take the attention away from this topic, so I’ll write separate posts on my experience with depression, anxiety and dealing with sexual abuse and poverty. Feel free to leave your story too. It might just resonate with someone who needs it most.

This post contains:

  • Recommended counselling/psychiatric services in the Philippines
  • Why I finally went to therapy and why you should go at least once
  • Information about the Philippine Mental Health Association

QUICK GUIDE

I highly recommend the Philippine Mental Health Association on East Avenue, Quezon City for counselling and clinical services. I looked around for options before I went to counselling for the first time and decided on PMHA because, to me, they seemed to achieve the balance of quality services and reasonable fees. More on my experience with PMHA below. (My recommendation is based on my experience as a client. I am not a medical professional.)

Many friends have also recommended CEFAM in Ateneo (last I heard, you have to call for an appointment and service fees are donation basis, meaning you can give how much you can) and Philippine General Hospital in Manila. If you’re based in the Makati area, I know someone who is happy with In Touch Community Services in Mckinley. They cost a bit more but you can apply for subsidized counselling.

r/Philippines on Reddit has a helpful list of resources and providers here. The complete list by #mentalhealthph can be found here. They did such a great job.


Why I finally brought my brain to the doctor

God knows I should have gone to therapy much sooner.

I was neglected as a child, sexually abused as a teenager, ran away and started life on my own at 16. I was detained by strange men when I was 11 or 12 in some dark park for reasons I didn’t know. I was subjected to armed/forceful robbery several times in the past 15 years–notably, once by an MMDA guy and a police officer, once in a former workplace that was one of my few safe spaces. Men have climbed past my window to rob a neighbor. I was chased by a crazy man who threw rocks at me because I didn’t give him any money. I’ve been followed by at least two exhibitionists. I’ve been regularly catcalled since I was 12 and, on most days, I still deeply distrust and dislike men.

All this have resulted in at least three serious bouts of depression over the years, and intense paranoia and constant panic attacks after I was robbed at work. But now that life is better, I thought I could get away with it, leave all that behind and become a mentally healthy adult. Boy, was I wrong.

Over the years I noticed that what trips my switches more than anything is money and employment (the source of money!). This comes as no surprise since not having a family means having no financial safety net. I didn’t have any savings until late this year, and that meant losing my job or having emergencies were out of the question if I wanted to keep my sanity.

In April I seriously thought I was going to lose my job, and it triggered anxiety like never before.

(I am now much better, but I wrote the next section in May 2017, when my mental state was at its most volatile. If you relate to any of the experiences below, I encourage introspection and considering whether you should seek a professional.)

High on Fear

You know that split-second terror you feel when you think you’ve lost your phone? Or that feeling when a suspicious-looking man seems to be following you? Your heart races, you can almost hear your pulse in your ear, your breathing becomes shallow. Cortisol and adrenaline. That’s how I responded even to the smallest stimulus. All unknown people and sounds are suspicious. I am never safe. (An unfamiliar traffic cone or harmless object in a familiar place was enough to get me going. I felt like one of those cats freaking out over cucumbers.) I slept with a knife and pepper spray under my pillow for months. It was like suspense movie music was on in the background every time I was awake.

I was easily irritated by many things. It’s always zero to sixty, never a mellow burn. Loud noises and bright lights brought almost physical pain. I heard the faintest sounds, and smelled the smallest changes in familiar environments. I didn’t feel anything for people on most days and forgot the feeling that comes with loving. I constantly ruminated and worried. I could never zone out and give my brain a break.

I decided to finally seek help when I felt my hulk smash brain was already too exhausting to quiet and might possibly overwhelm me someday and affect the people I love.

Philippine Mental Health Association

A friend recommended the Philippine Mental Health Association for their great and affordable services. I’m all for optimal price to quality ratio so I thought it was time. I thought I owed it to myself to go while I still had a grip on the situation.

About PMHA

Address: No. 18 East Avenue, Quezon City (map at the end of the post)

PMHA is in a compound inside the big building on East Avenue corner V. Luna. The building has a Red Ribbon, Chowking, Jollibee and Hi-Precision Diagnostics on the East Ave side. It must be said that there are two Jollibees near PMHA so if you call them and they mention Jollibee as a landmark, make sure you get off at the right one. I made the mistake of getting off my Grabcar at the Jollibee nearer the Heart Center. Remember to get off the one near SSS. I had to brisk walk for 10-15 minutes to the actual address at noon, heart bursting in my chest because I was scared of being late.

Telephone number: +632-921-4958; +632-921-4959

I usually call the first number and dial the local for diagnostic services. You can set your appointment through that line and will only take a few minutes.

Services and rates (as of Apr 2017)

Counselling: P600

Consultation with a psychiatrist: P1000 for adults; P1500 for younger

Rates may vary depending on what you require but this is what they told me over the phone when I inquired for the first time and were the fees I actually paid when I went.

Environment

The building of PMHA is in a busy area but a quiet heart lays inside. It felt like a zen garden for retired public school teachers, which was comforting because I thought it would look like a hospital that would make me feel crazier than I already did. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. It’s a rectangular building of bright school corridors with a small yard in the middle. Seats are scattered in the waiting area so you don’t have to talk to anyone. The number of people in the waiting area varies, but it always feels like a siesta afternoon.

Procedure

Schedule your first appointment

I scheduled my first visit to PMHA over the phone. It was quick and easy. If you don’t like talking on the phone, you don’t have to worry as it will only take two minutes.

Assessment interview

On my initial visit, the first thing I did was fill up some forms on my identity information and personal, family and employment history. Afterwards, I had a chat with one of the counsellors about what I wrote, my concerns, and what I wanted to achieve with therapy.

Honestly, the assessment interview was the most liberating thing I had ever done for my mental health. I didn’t expect to feel immediately lighter afterwards, but I did. I think it was because I felt like I was finally being taken seriously. It felt so damn good to hear someone say “That must have been so difficult.” instead of the usual “You don’t need therapy/you shouldn’t feel bad because you’re so strong, you’ve been through everything.” There have been far too many occasions when people I loved the most were the first ones to invalid my struggles. But finally someone said it, someone told me I’m allowed to break. I felt understood and like, for the first time, I wasn’t alone in my head.

Consultation with a psychiatrist

I saw the psychiatrist a few weeks after my assessment interview. Now this is something you have to consider if you’re going to PMHA. They have a lot of clients and excellent service but also limited resources. You can’t schedule appointments last minute and there are times I’ve had to wait four weeks or so before my next visit. (This was okay with me since I didn’t feel like my case was that urgent. They made sure to tell me I can text anytime if I felt like I needed to see someone ASAP.) When you’re there, though, they never make sessions feel rushed. I’ve always been able to talk freely about everything on my mind and I’ve never once felt like my counsellor was in a hurry or thinking of something else. Honestly, the people there are great.

I was informed I need at least three visits to the psychiatrist before they can give me an official diagnosis on paper, but during my first consultation, the doctor told me my symptoms seem to point to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), with some symptoms of hypomania. I was pretty satisfied, honestly, because I’ve long had a suspicion but, over the years, people have made me feel like it’s just in my head since I still act “normal” and “functional.”

If you feel like you need professional help or to talk to someone, please go. I should have listened to myself sooner.

The doctor asked if I wanted meds, but I refused and said my objective with therapy is to be better at the “tools” I need to deal with life’s blows without external aid (that I might become dependent on). I know for a fact that every person has their own path to healing and some truly require medication. I just didn’t feel like meds were the solution for me and I get addicted so quickly I’m afraid I’ll just swap one illness for another.

Counselling

The psychiatrist suggested counselling and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to “undo” my automatic responses to my perceived threats and triggers, so off I went. I’ve been to counselling three times at this point and can say that I am much better and feel mentally healthy again. (I talked more about CBT and other things I did to deal with my anxiety here.)

I honestly can’t say how much counselling helped because while going I also actively removed/controlled my sources of anxiety. I do know though that I was catapulted to recovery because of the validation I received at PMHA. My counsellor told me that, like all things worthwhile, therapy and healing are processes that need my patience and open mind.

Thoughts on Therapy

Therapy might help you resolve your issues, it might not, but I do know it teaches you the equally valuable exercise of taking yourself, your feelings and your struggles seriously. Going to therapy and having someone objective tell me that what I’m going through is real was the permission I didn’t realize my inner self needed. Because I now consider my experiences and feelings as valid, I find that I am better at facing them. If therapy is available to you and you’re interested in going, I highly recommend doing so. It can teach you to exercise the introspection needed to care for yourself and the ones you love better if you let it.

 

PMHA on Google Maps

 

Have you been to therapy in the Philippines? Do you want to try it? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with me below or through growingupmnl@gmail.com 🙂

Ingat! <3

 

 

Thumbnail photo: Own; taken in Cottbus, Germany 2015

1 Comment

  1. Patrice Salas
    October 3, 2018 / 12:21

    Hi there, Jean!

    I’m not sure if you still check this e-mail, or if you’ll even reply when you see it.

    My name’s Patrice and I’m 23 years old, and just like you, I believe I’m also suffering mental health issues. I read your post again and again, and it really motivated me to get the help I need. I wanted to thank you for putting this important message out there and for reaching out to people like me who really need help. 🙁 It’s such a hard topic for me to ever discuss out loud, but it’s people like you that help me get through it.

    Anyway, I tried calling PMHA but nobody ever answers the phone. I was wondering if you know any other way I could set an appointment? Or if I should just go there? I would really like to visit.

    I hope you could help me out.
    Thank you again and God bless. 🙂
    M

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