4 Ways Mental Health Is Undermined In The Filipino Culture

By Marianne Blando


Western culture considers cultivating mental health just as important as nurturing physical health in Western culture. Given that Western medicine is the roots of mental health professionals, mental health is more openly talked about and is a significant part of overall wellness. 

But unlike the Western culture, the Filipino culture has a cultural stigma on dealing with mental health. It is the unspoken topic that is usually belittled. Although there are countless values, traits, and successes to celebrate in the Filipino culture, it’s time that we stop covering up the flaws of our beloved Filipino culture.


The downplay of mental health in the Filipino culture has been like an unhealthy cultural heirloom that is passed on from one generation to the next. It has become a piece of the Filipino culture that needs to be dismantled and reconstructed into a more knowledgeable and empathetic cultural mindset.


To get into this reconstruction, we first have to identify what we’ve been doing wrong. We explored the four manifestations of how mental health is trivialized in the Filipino culture, and we’d be glad to break them down for you.




In the Filipino culture, there are commonly used inaccurate labels for people expressing tender emotions and people going through mental illnesses. It is very widespread that experiences of symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are labeled as kaartehan (being dramatic). When a guy cries, he’s picked on for being malambot (soft). A person expressing genuine frustration and annoyance from “harmless” jokes on weight and physical appearance is immediately identified as pikunin / pikon (butthurt).


Other more labels are still widely used when opening a discussion about mental health and mental health issues. However, it’s apparent that since these labels are still thrown around in 2020, some of us don’t understand yet how the use of incorrect labels distorts the gravity of a mental health issue. What we also don’t realize is how these labels cause a disruption of connectedness within a relationship. Psychiatrist Dr. Dinah Nadera explained that nowadays, the lack of social connectedness is becoming more and more prevalent. Lack of social connectedness is also a factor of the increased risk of mental health issues.




While looking through articles about mental health in the Filipino culture, we've found an interesting discovery. The most dreaded yet the most frequent situation is when a tito (uncle) or a tita (aunt) greets someone with either “Uy, ang taba taba mo” (“you look fat”) or “Uy, ang payat payat mo” (“you look skinny”). As hinted on #1, commenting about somebody else’s weight and physical appearance is, unfortunately, a common thing in the Filipino culture, and typically, these remarks are targeted towards women. Some might say it’s a way of small talk and not as an insult, but why not just ask, “How have you been?”


Globally, low body-esteem has caused 85% of women and 79% of girls to choose not to engage in activities and social interactions according to a study. The researchers of the same study found that unsolicited criticism women and girls received from other people and the unrealistic beauty standards set by the media correlated with low body-esteem.




Have you experienced someone tell you, “Sus! That’s all in your mind!” or “Don’t be sad, be happy!” when you open up about something that’s been emotionally stressful to you? If you have, this can be identified as a dismissal of your feelings. It’s the instant shut down of another person’s emotions, leaving their needs invalidated. But why is this recurrent in the Filipino culture?


Dismissal can be explained through the Filipino culture’s high regard to saving’ face.’ Vulnerability is something that is made to feel hiya (shame) for that people think it’s safer to dismiss mental health issues than to acknowledge them. In a study, researchers revealed that there is a stigma mental health can potentially bring hiya (shame) to one’s name and one’s family. This stigma hindered Filipinos, even in Western populations, to not seek professional help.




In a competition, we all know that there are a winner and a loser. Given the name of this manifestation, the person we intended to communicate our troubles to reacts in an all-knowing, self-centered manner. Although at times, this can be a way of saying, “If I can do it, you can too,” most times, people mean to say, “I’ve had it harsher than what you’re going through now, so suck it up.” 


This is the crab mentality at work. If you put live crabs in a bucket and one tries to clasp its way to the top of the bucket, the crabs at the bottom would use all their might to pull that one crab down. See the metaphor there? Instead of helping each other and validating the person’s difficulties and feelings, some would rather make it about themselves and brush off the person’s need for support.


All of these are only a few ways that show how there is very minimal importance given to mental health in the Filipino culture, and we’ve come to the time to break the cultural heirloom of downplaying mental health issues.


You matter—your needs matter. 


Let’s unlearn the patterns of trivializing mental health in the Filipino culture, and let’s learn to empathize with zero judgment with people who need our support.


Empathize, not trivialize. Unawain, hindi balewalain.




If you wish to seek help, you can reach out to the following:


For those in the United States:


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline: 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)

more resources at the National Institute of Mental Health



For those in the Philippines:


New National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) Crisis Hotlines: 0917 899 8727 (USAP) and 0917 989 8727 (USAP)

Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF) – (02) 804-HOPE (4673), 0917 558 HOPE (4673) or 2919 (toll-free for GLOBE and TM subscribers).

Manila Lifeline Centre (MLC) – (02) 8969191 or 0917 854 9191.

More resources at Silakbo PH.



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