For optimum mental health, people need to remain connected, active and positive. This was the primary recommendation of guidance counselor Abigail Gorgonio at the May 4 webinar, “Facing Depression,” organized by the First Philippine Holdings Corporation/First Gen Corporation group together with their mental health partner PowerVision EAP Inc.
Gorgonio, who teaches psychology at the University of San Carlos and serves as lead counselor in Cebu of PowerVision, said mental health refers to a “state of well-being in which the individual realizes one’s own abilities and potentials, copes adequately with the normal stresses of life, displays resilience in the face of extreme life events, works productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a positive contribution to the community,” as defined in Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Law.
Citing a World Health Organization study, she said depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting 350 million people. “Seven Filipinos commit suicide every day,” underscoring the need to openly discuss depression.
Differentiating sadness from depression, Gorgonio said sadness is usually temporary, often connected to a life change, usually without feelings of suicide and may have an impact on sleep, energy, appetite and general well-being, while depression “requires assistance, medication and support; may be chronic; may rear its ugly head at any time with or without a life change; may be accompanied by suicidal ideas; and may affect a person’s ability to take care of himself.”
Depression may manifest in people as “loss of interest, feeling down or sad, having difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, feeling tired, change in appetite (either loss of appetite or overeating), feeling bad about oneself or feeling like a failure, trouble concentrating, slow pace of movement/work or speech or being fidgety and restless, and thoughts of hurting oneself or dying.”
While many factors such as genes and brain chemical imbalance, temperament, family issues, social and relationship issues, work stressors and loss may contribute to depression, people need to develop their own wellness toolbox to guard against falling into the trap. According to Gorgonio, the wellness toolbox consists of connections, physical activities and thoughts that can help people regain balance and composure when they start to feel sad or worse, depressed.
Staying connected means finding support from people who make one feel safe and cared for. Face-to-face activities must be prioritized and one must find time for social activities even if one does not feel like it. Connectedness increases the happy hormone oxytocin in the body with activities like playing with kids, holding hands, hugging your family or even giving a compliment.
Staying active means knowing which physical activities make one feel good, from exercise and sports like dancing, walking, cycling or swimming, to chores that make one sweat such as gardening, walking the dog or washing the car. Exercise releases happy hormones serotonin and endorphin, while finishing tasks such as chores increases the happy hormone dopamine.
Staying positive means challenging negative thoughts that tend to zap one’s spirits and paralyze one into inaction or disinterest. Challenging a negative thought may involve looking for evidence to disprove the negative thought, looking for an alternate explanation or asking what one would say to a friend who had the same exact negative thought.
Gorgonio encouraged participants to “cross out” their negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones they can go back to in their wellness toolbox. One common negative thought is not wanting to open up or share with a friend or relative one’s “down moments” for fear of “being a burden” to them. A positive thought to counter this is to draw from your wellness toolbox those connections with whom you feel safe and look for evidence to disprove your negative thought specifically referring to those who are already known to care for you. The alternative is to go to a professional counselor since it is their job to listen to you.
While keeping oneself mentally healthy, everyone may also extend help to a colleague, friend or family member showing signs and symptoms of depression. “But first, understand that depression is a serious condition. Your depressed loved one cannot just ‘snap out of it’ by sheer force of will. Also, depression makes it difficult for a person to connect on a deep emotional level with anyone, even the people he or she loves most. So don’t take it personally if they don’t respond in the way you want or expected,” said Gorgonio.
Common warning signs observed in the workplace for a clinically depressed individual are poor motivation, low morale, emotional extremes, increased use of sick leaves, poor concentration and increased accidents or mistakes.
Sometimes, just checking in on someone to show you care can make a difference. Ask about the person, listen attentively to the answer, encourage action if they open up and follow up at a later time. One may suggest reaching out to a professional counselor if they have not done so yet, or referring them for a second opinion if they feel they are not getting better with their current regimen.
While the pandemic brought many stressors upon the workforce, the reopening of the economy and the advent of hybrid workplaces will be bringing even more changes, and hence stressors, as workers make adjustments to cope with the next normal. It is always a good practice to fill your wellness toolbox with helpful connections, fun physical activities and positive thoughts available to you at a moment’s notice.
Better yet, make it a habit to connect, exercise and talk “good” to yourself on a daily basis so that you are never in dangerously low supply of the happy hormones that keep you mentally healthy and 10,000 steps away from depression. (Story/Photos by: Carla Paras-Sison)