mental health

A Dose of Perspective: On Failure and Asking for Help

v_white_depression_500x279 What is it about failure that makes life complicated? Is it the fear of failing? Is it letting others, or yourself, down? Is it feeling like you're wasting time or talent? Is it going 100 mph down a specific career path, only to realize you've been going in the wrong direction? Is it watching individuals whom you love go down paths you do not approve of? Is it feeling like you don't have all the answers? Is it experiencing depression* and not being able to get out of bed everyday? Perhaps it is a combination of several actions. Or perhaps it is just a reminder that we need to keep what we experience in perspective.

The idea of failure, as I see it, is a red flag. It's a reminder for us to understand that there are occurrences merely out of our control. That does not mean we, as individuals, are failures, nor are the actions we take. 

A year ago, in June 2014, I had the opportunity to serve as a panelist at the Annual UniPro Summit in New York City. Once I had a microphone in hand, I discussed how each failure I had experienced until that point were actually lessons in disguise. It was the first time I had been so vulnerable in a public space. I had done so candidly - I had not planned to talk about failure - and in front of an audience of over 100 young Filipino professionals and students from around the country. But I wanted to be honest and open. At that point, my "failures" included the fact that I was no longer pursuing a career in the field that I had studied in college, that I had been on the job hunt and underemployed for eight months, and that I had moved back home to live with my family. In reality, there is absolutely nothing wrong and any of these three facts. But really, were these truths my failures? Or were they just my perceived mishaps, existing only in my mind?

Fast forward one year to a warm May evening. Eleven young leaders and myself were gearing up for our graduation ceremony in Wilkinsburg, PA, a community right outside of Pittsburgh. It was in Wilkinsburg that we kicked off our nine-month leadership development training program through Coro, an incredible non-profit dedicated to growing leaders.

The Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs is no joke. It is rigorous and time-consuming. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and demands that you step outside of the box. From individual project placements with various government, business, non-profit and labor organizations, to whole group projects at the local, city, state and national level, we dove into the working world with passion and drive to tackle challenges in society. We were also faced with personality clashes, socioeconomic divides, race and ethnic differences, and conflicting beliefs. To add some imagery, a euphemism we often used to describe ourselves to others was 'twelve different people trying to drive the bus at once.' It took some time, but we eventually figured out a flow to our chaos. But that doesn't mean I was without my share of perceived personal failures.

And there we were, nine months later, at the conclusion of our program. Each of us had prepared reflections from our time in the program. But most importantly, we were there to share glimpses of systemic challenges and personal growth. The key insight that I shared with the fellows, Coro staff, family, friends, project hosts, community members and Coro supporters that evening was this:

While caring for and giving to others is part of the human nature, it is even more important to care and give to oneself. In order to be an effective leader, one must exercise self-compassion. A specific way one can do this is by asking for help.

When someone tells us to not be afraid to "ask for help," is not meant to be demeaning or the end all to any problem. It's not the solution. It's merely a tool for coping and managing stress. It is a step forward toward pure wellness and self-care. Asking for help does not demonstrate weakness. It demonstrates courage and strength. Looking back, I wonder how many of my failures would have changed to experiences of wonder and empowering interdependence had I done just that. Had I asked for help.

Vulnerability can be a scary thing. Telling people of your most inner turmoils and demons without knowing their response can be intimidating. What if they don't understand you?

What if they do?

A reminder to humanity: When someone opens up to you, listen. Whether or not they are a loved one, a colleague, or even a passerby who you just so happens to stumble upon while they weep: do your best to understand. Do not chastise or blame them. Show sympathy, or empathy if you can. Remind them that they are not alone in the pain they face.

And a reminder to those who are conflicted by failure: Be compassionate to yourself. Show yourself love by taking moments to reflect, show gratitude, or do something you enjoy or brings you peace. If you're not at a place to enact self-care, then ask for help. People may not always have a concrete answer or solution. But there is strength in numbers. You're never alone in the struggle you face. Chances are, you're not the only one who has deviated from your college major, been unemployed, or lived at home with family as a twenty-something or older.

*If you or someone you know is contemplating self harm or suicide, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255. Additionally, if you or someone you know is living with depression, or displaying symptoms of depression or other mental illnesses, get help. Mental illnesses are medical conditions and should not be overlooked. If you're comfortable, reach out to family, friends, peers and mentors for support. You can also talk to mental health professionals, such as a counselor, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or your primary care physician (PCP). If professional medical attention is inaccessible, reach out to community mental health centers. Other mental health resources can be found here.

The original version of this post appeared on Mama Tanap, a blog that focuses on personal health and wellness.

Behind Closed Doors: Redefining the Perception of Mental Health and Illness


During the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, mental illnesses originated from the gods. Disorders were consequences for certain behaviors, and were carried out by means of "divine punishment or demonic possession." Additionally, there was no clear line that differentiated between physical and mental problems, as treatments and remedies for both types were rather similar. Such treatments were a bit different than today's, as they rarely prescribed medication of any kind. Instead, they relied on observing a patient's behavior, utilizing methods like counseling and restraint, and encouraging magical remedies. Today, there's a negative connotation associated with the word "mental." Often, the word is used to reference an individual or an entity suffering from disorders or illnesses of the mind. People relate it to terms that are also less technical, such as "crazy," "mad," and "lunatic." It's this type of word association that has become commonplace in daily conversation, further cementing the stigma against mental health. However, it's important to remember that "mental" is an adjective that more simply describes something of or related to the mind in general.

For example, the phrases "mental health" and "mental illness" are mistakenly used interchangeably. So what's the difference between the two?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they are related, but not one in the same. The CDC defines the two as such:

Mental health is "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community."

Mental illness is defined as "collectively all diagnosable mental disorders” or “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning."

It's time to stop viewing either of the two phrases as synonymous. One's mental health, which can be further affected by mental illness, is valuable. The healthier an individual is, both physically and mentally, the easier it is for he or she to carry out day-to-day duties and activities.

Having a mental illness is never a choice. | Source: BU Today

People who struggle with mental health issues may not always have a mental illness. Instead, there may be a combination of factors that influence one's mental health, including psychological (perception of one's self), past history (family and relatives), current life events (such as relationships or other daily stresses) and biological (this is where illness comes into play). Those living with mental illnesses are not doing so by choice. Having a disorder or condition - be it mental or physical - is never a choice.

It's important that we start to redefine our perception of mental health and mental illness. We can actively do this by educating ourselves and those around us and by being mindful of our choice of words when interacting with others.


This post originally appeared on Mama Tanap, a blog that focuses on personal health and wellness.

Behind Closed Doors: A Hidden Gem on a College Campus - Mental Health

In the Fil-Am community, there is a cultural mistrust against seeking mental health help. Among teens and young adults, who may fear shame from their community and peers for seeking help, this problem is also quite prevalent. Unfortunately, college students are at a high risk of facing high levels of stress and mental health illness. However, students also have the most resources available to them during their undergraduate (and graduate) years. One of these resources, which is considerably underutilized on campuses across the nation, is the school’s counseling center. The stigma that 'seeking help from a counselor means that you’re admitting defeat or weakness' often deters students from seeking help. Students dread being embarrassed and shamed. Some students even fear risking their academic career, and may choose to carry on silently with their struggle. However, choosing to get help and talk to a mental health professional can be a very positive and life-saving experience.

Why are college students depressed?

depressed maleDepression is increasingly more common among college students. For many students who go off to college, it can be an extremely trying transition period. Students have to get accustomed to new surroundings, influences and peers - all without close supervision or parental guidance.

This is a critical time of growth for college students, as they are learning responsibilities that they may not have had experience with before in the past. Students are becoming more independent, having to manage their time, and steering toward their future careers. Often, they don’t know the importance of taking care of their mental health, or don't know the steps to do so in a college setting. It's crucial that college students remember that they are not alone in whatever they are facing.

According to an Associated Press-mtvU poll, about four in ten college students are experiencing depression. Students who need mental health attention should not be afraid to get help. There’s nothing shameful about it, and it doesn’t make that person weak or incapable of dealing with their issues. Rather, making the decision to ask for help shows great strength and self-awareness.

What are the advantages to going to a counseling center during college?

  1. Services are free. While some students do inquire about mental health services at their counseling center, others don’t always know where to get help. Also, beyond college, it becomes more difficult to get help, especially when dealing with mental health coverage and insurance plans. Simply put, it is expensive to receive mental health help after college.
  2. Those who reach out and take advantage of  counseling services experience a considerable decrease in their stress levels and worries.
  3. Students can still turn their life around and steer toward a healthier life, even if they feel like they have done too much damage to their academic (and professional) record and relationships with others. Anything that has fallen by the wayside can still be salvaged and improved.
  4. Students will be able to access more resources, especially if they need more intensive help. This includes getting outside counseling, receiving medical attention, or meeting with other mental health professionals.

What are some signs that someone should seek help?

  • feeling down or hopeless
  • violence and hostility
  • suicidal thoughts
  • self-harming actions
  • changes in eating habits
  • not sleeping enough
  • not attending class
  • not enjoying things that you used to
  • substance abuse 
  • social anxiety
  • academic stress
  • conflict at home

Are there alternatives to the counseling center?

  • Call the national suicide prevention line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Talk to someone you trust: parent, family member, teacher, primary care physician, spiritual leader
  • Seek additional support here.
  • Read more information here.
  • If you want to get involved with mental health on your campus or in the community, contact your local Active Minds chapter or NAMI chapter.


Photo credits: The Guardian and and Sujen Man

Behind Closed Doors: A Letter to Gabrielle Molina

Gabby Molina committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates. On May 22nd, Gabrielle Molina, a 12-year-old Fil-Am from Queens, NY, took her life. She left behind an apologetic note to her family, which explained that she endured relentless bullying, both at school and on the internet.

Gabby's story is not an anomaly. Across the country, and the globe, bullying has become quite commonplace. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, 43% of all teens in America are victims of bullying. This includes cyberbullying, which is done over the internet and through other digital means.

The accessibility and anonymity associated with the internet allows hurtful messages to be sent and seen instantaneously. Thus, the internet incubates open battlegrounds for bickering, name-calling, and downright nasty arguments. These attacks appear on social media sites, comment sections and forums.  Today, kids and teens have technology at their disposal, and can engage in unethical conduct, often without care or knowledge of the consequences. In the wrong hands, this technology becomes dangerous, and in Gabby's case, deadly.

Though we cannot blame Gabby's peers entirely for her passing, they did trigger her decision. As kids, we're taught the following phrase: "Sticks and stones may break my bones,  but words will never hurt me." But what if this isn't the case? Our words certainly have the ability to inflict greater pain than we intend.

In addition to cyberbullying, we must consider the state of Gabby's mental well-being. Kids and teens, like adults, may be living with a mental illness. Often overlooked or unidentified, these illnesses intensify, especially without attention or proper treatment.

As mental health becomes more visible in today's media, I'd like to send out a plea for help. Earlier this month, President Obama held the National Conference on Mental Health. The conference brought various mental health professionals and advocates together, in hopes of addressing the conversation at a national level. While there has been some criticism of the conference, I have faith that we're headed in the right direction. In addition to the conference, the Obama administration launched, a comprehensive site for those seeking mental health services and resources. Furthermore, there are many other organizations out there that have been supporting and advocating for those living with a mental illness. My hope is that this conversation continues, and is not forgotten by the media. I believe it is up to us to equip ourselves with the right attitude and knowledge in order to truly change our culture's perception of mental health. We have to realize that anyone around us could be suffering in silence. By understanding the stereotypes and stigmas against mental health, we can help our friends, family, and even ourselves, during difficult times.

In the meantime, here's a letter I wrote to Gabby. It's signed "The World." I hope you will all join me in being part of that world.

Dear Gabby,


We’ll never know how much you suffered nor will we know the truth. We’ll never know just how hard you tried to live freely in your youth. We know it must have been hard to fight the demons deep within. We know you couldn’t take the pain, nor the hell you were living in. But there are some things that you should know, even if it may be too late. Please know that we are sorry that you endured such cruelty and hate.


We apologize that we did not filter the toxins from our freedom of speech. The jagged grains tossed from our own hands went beyond our reach. For the poisonous words and bullying crept right into your very heart; You were physically and mentally tortured, your peace was ripped apart. We apologize that we’ve progressed to this: crimes can reach us in our homes. Perhaps unwelcomed claims and criticisms are worse than sticks and stones.


We apologize that our society has taught us how to turn a blind eye, For media and pop culture tells us to keep quiet when all else goes awry. We know cultural expectations left you amongst many doubts and fears, And that you were afraid ask for our help, lest a soul witness your tears. We are aware that we did not help you, we may have ignored the signs. We are sorry we did not think to look beyond the curtains nor the blinds.


We hope one day you’ll forgive us, and that you do not blame yourself. Because we’re all responsible for each other’s happiness and health. For now is the time to be courageous for those who have only an ounce of hope. It is us who must speak out, and broaden our conversation and our scope. We should help others out of the darkness, the shadows and the grief. We will stand up for all, friend or foe, who cannot find their own relief.


For each of us have been touched by mental pain, illness, or misdirection. So we have the responsibility to elevate and change our perception. We must encourage those around us to find the solace that they seek. We must be a beacon for those who’ve fought until their body’s left them weak. It is our hearts you have touched, though it’s been a tearful goodbye. We know we might not erase the stigma, but hey, it’s worth a try.


With Love, The World

Photo credit: Classic Soul Radio

Behind Closed Doors: Fil-Am Mental Health

Mental health and safety aren’t regularly discussed in our society. Our culture as a whole has stigmatized mental illness, as if it were an infectious disease. In a recent report, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes that the US mental health system is far from sufficient. Health services and laws vary across states, further deterring individuals from seeking help. However, in light of recent mass shootings, discussion on mental health in America is becoming more prevalent. But why must it take a tragedy to discuss something so important? The Fil-Am community, which has more easily assimilated into American society in comparison to other Asian communities, rejects the help-seeking mentality. In a study, E.J.R. David says that “cultural mistrust” plays a major role among the Fil-Am community. Mistreatment and oppression throughout Pilipino and Fil-Am history has certainly influenced this mistrust. However, one of the findings was that younger generations are more inclined to seek psychological help, as they don’t have the same concerns as first generation Pilipinos. Those more assimilated and familiar with American culture were more willing to seek help. Furthermore, the study found that those with a higher economic status have more opportunities to seek help.

Group therapy.

Like in other Asian communities, loss of face and shame are feared among Pilipinos. As a young Fil-Am, I unknowingly lived with this mentality. I used to be afraid to open up and ask for help when I needed it. Sharing my most difficult struggles wasn't originally part of my personality, nor my identity. For me, admitting that I needed help required a lot of courage and a loving support network. It wasn't until my second year of college that I realized seeking help was even an option. After a referral from one of my advisors, I visited the William & Mary Counseling Center. I was afraid; I felt like I was admitting defeat, and that I wasn't strong enough to face my problems. I eventually realized that I was wrong. I ended up returning to the Counseling Center throughout the rest of my time at William & Mary. I attended meditation sessions, individual therapy, and, in my opinion the most helpful, group therapy. Being able to speak my mind, without fear of judgment or having to follow through with explicit advice, was reinvigorating. I knew I was being heard, and in turn, got as much out of it as I put into it.

After such a positive experience at the Counseling Center, I was proud of my newly-acquired love for seeking help. I found myself encouraging others to also take time out of their day to explore new outlets, be it exercise, lost hobbies, or seeing a therapist. I even got involved with student government and organizations on campus in order to spread mental health awareness.

I only hope that the younger generations can embrace this mentality, and encourage their peers and the larger Fil-Am community to do the same. We can only benefit from confronting Fil-Am mental health. Regardless of cultural expectations, it is important to be selfish when it comes to your personal well-being. Speaking from personal experience, I assure you: there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help.

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