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Wellness Advocates Spread Mental Health Awareness to Lukans

Article | December 18, 2020

Wellness Advocates Spread Mental Health Awareness to Lukans

by Rafael Recomono

 

Last November 16, 2019, the St. Luke’s Medicine Student Council, under the leadership of Ivanah Y. Tupaz, held MD x MH: Improving Wellness. It was a program the that aimed to introduce effective coping strategies to medical students, provide opportunity for medical students to formulate, wellness project proposal for their institution and update participants on current mental health situation of the country, especially in medical institutions and hospitals. 

Invited experts and personalities talked about their experiences and insights on mental health, which was followed by interactive wellness breakout activities.

As a personality, breast cancer survivor, and medical doctor, who specializes on occupational medicine, Dr. Gia Sison advocated in her message better mental health among medical professionals. She initially described the mental health situation in the Philippines, and then lingered particularly on the stigma of about being “not okay” of both the patient and the doctor.  According to her, patients with mental health disorders are wary of being “seen outside the clinic (of a psychiatrist)” due to the stigma. She explained that without intervention to break this cycle of poor accountability of one’s own mental well-being, a poorer health outcome, decreased life opportunities, and reduced access to services will result. 

Dr. Sison also elaborated on the stresses to the mental health of doctors, as they are pressured by society’s expectations of being “perfect, strong, and indestructible.”  This kind of mentality, she explained, adds to the pressure from the family of medical students, resulting to burnout. The upholder of healthy workplace conditions then ended her lecture by sharing nuggets of wisdom in creating a supportive work environment which caters to overall mental wellbeing of doctors. Some of these included creating a system of social support and collective care, looking for healthy outlets, taking a break, doing some quiet time and meditation, and being kind and forgiving to yourself. 

Dr. Maria Stephani Fay Cagayan, the second guest speaker, is a multi-awarded educator and a leading expert at her field, obstetrics and gynecology. She shared her personal struggles to share insights on how we can overcome our own. 

Some of her personal challenges included being a mother while studying medicine, dealing with the burdens of her mental health problems, and fighting against internal conflict about “not being the first.” She, as an advocate of women’s wellness and maternal health, shared how she coped with life after she was diagnosed with cyclothymia, a mental disorder characterized by periods of symptoms of depression and periods of symptoms of hypomania, but not meeting the criteria of a major depressive episode or a hypomanic episode.  She narrated how she developed desair for the diagnosis, but then a realistic appraisal of the stress by looking at events from a different angle. Nearing the end, she shared that the world is full of suffering, but despite that, there is always a daily opportunity to overcome it. She imparted her ‘ABC’ on the perception of life—Accepting and confronting reality for what it is; Believing that life is worth living, and discovering the meaning of significance of self; and Coping strategies. Expounding on coping strategies, she shared some of her initiatives to reach out wellness to greater scope. She spoke of her belly-dancing program called Sayuntis: Sayaw para sa mga Buntis, her own radio program “Usapang P – Puso, Puson, Pwerta, Pamilya, at Iba Pa at DZUP 1602, and her work in journalism, holding the position of Editor in Chief of both the Philippine Journal of Experimental Pharmacology and Perinatal Association of the Philippines Journal. To end her talk, she encouraged the audience to accept hardships as a pathway to peace, to change their mindsets and believe in one’s self, and to join a group that embraces everyone’s own weirdness and flaws. 

 A discussion on holistic approach to wellness through mindfulness was given by Dr. Rene Samaniego, the last speaker and a highly acclaimed professional at his field. Core to his lecture was John Kabat-Zinn’s operational definition of ‘mindfulness’—the awareness that arises by non-judgmentally paying attention on purpose in the present moment.  

He directed the importance of mindfulness by pointing out the reality of the tendency of the human mind to wander, and how it becomes problematic because a wandering mind is often a sad mind. He backed this premise through a study that found out that when people are not happy, their minds tend to wander, and that the main predictor of happiness in people is not what they were doing in the present moment, but what they were thinking while doing that action in that present moment. Once a medical student, he inserted in his talk some of his experiences and lessons during his early years as a resident and later on as a senior. 

To help the medical students cope with mental health problems, Dr. Samaniego shared some mindfulness tips and strategies. Included in his list were Hatha yoga, psychotherapy, meditation, and other mindfulness techniques. He also shared the seven pillars of mindfulness, which are: 1) non-judging , 2) patience, 3) beginner’s mind, 4) trust, 5) non-striving, 6) acceptance, and lastly 7) letting go. 

The afternoon session was marked with breakout activities that exhibited different ways of keeping mindful and being in touch with the present. These include mental health first aid, mindful breathing exercises, yoga therapy, and art therapy. The event ended with a workshop on conceptualizing a feasibility study on implementing hypothetical wellness programs with the help of the Preventive and Community Medicine Department of the college.

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