Ari Verzosa—father of Miss International 2016 Kylie Verzosa, an advocate for mental health awareness—weighs in.
For reasons he didn’t know what, he lost the drive to do anything, even the things he used to enjoy. He wasn’t feeling right, but he couldn’t exactly say why. He was lethargic and moody. He lacked appetite, and would only sleep. Though he knew that there was something wrong, he just couldn’t put his finger on it, until he went to a psychiatrist.
Often referred to as Manong Ari among his peers, Ari Verzosa was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder more than ten years ago. He has been on medication since then.
Bipolar disorder causes dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. Formerly known as manic depression, this condition has two extremes: the manic side characterized by much excitement, and the depressive side (which he manifested by the time he consulted) distinguished by not having the will to do anything.
“For the first three years, I was still in denial. Maybe on the fourth or fifth year, natanggap ko na, and it made things easier for me. Kami ‘yong tinatawag nilang may sira, may sayad, may topak. That’s us,” Manong Ari said.
Manong Ari is just one out of the millions of people currently afflicted with a mental health condition, and Bipolar disorder is also just one among many other kinds of mental health illnesses that are the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to World Health Organization (WHO).
In commemoration of the Mental Health Month, and in light of the recent issues downplaying the significance of mental health, the mobilization of efforts to support mental health awareness becomes ever more relevant.
On understanding the people with disorders
Having been diagnosed with a disorder himself, Manong Ari understands mental health issues on a personal level. But many people are unaware that aside from him, his daughters Kylie and Chelsea are also diagnosed with mental health conditions.
Kylie wrestled with depression more than three years ago, and it is the primary reason why she became a mental health campaigner. As soon as Manong Ari saw the symptoms of depression in his eldest child, he insisted her to visit a psychiatrist despite her apprehensions.
“When you’re depressed kasi, you can lay down like dead for a month or two and just suffer. Minsan nakatulala ka, then iiyak ka na lang, and you don’t even know why,” he said.
Manong Ari also clarified the difference between extreme sadness and clinical depression, and used the remarks of TV host Joey de Leon about depression equating it to just stress, as an example of misinformation. He added that it is possible to feel depressed without being clinically diagnosed with depression.
“Everybody gets depressed, pero iba ‘yon eh. That’s more like sadness; you have a breakup, you get bad grades or bad trip ka. You feel sad and depressed. But it’s a fleeting emotion,” he explained, saying that clinical depression might extend for two weeks or more, and might jeopardize one’s everyday activities and quality of life.
Chelsea, his younger daughter, was also diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, along with Trichotillomania (the irresistible urge to pull the hair including eyebrows and eyelashes) and Histrionic Personality Disorder (the constant craving for attention and emotional overreaction).
Manong Ari said that in their case, as with most cases, genetics plays a part; that once it is in the family, a member or the other members are predisposed. But the diagnosis is still not guaranteed.
Scientifically speaking, mental disorders also have something to do with the production of serotonin and dopamine, and since people can’t regulate these so-called “happy hormones”, some end up in depression.
“It’s generally nature, and partly nurture (lifestyle),” he said.
Regardless of the condition, Manong Ari noted that people with mental health disorder are not expected to adjust and the ones around them should do the adjustments, “Just be there for them. Know what words to say. Don’t make us feel like kasalanan pa namin na ganito kami. Do you really think we want to be in our state?”
On reaching out to the people with disorders
In reference to a study conducted by WHO, Manong Ari said that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. From ages 15 to 29, the second highest cause of death is suicide, and the highest cause of suicide is depression.
What he finds more disturbing is that most of the people who have mental health disorder are either those aware of it but choose to do nothing about it, or those who completely have no idea that they are afflicted.
“When you’re going through it, especially when you’re in the deepest state, you’re like blanketed by sorrow, negativity, and hopelessness. It’s a terrible disorder where your brain tells you that you’re useless, and you’re better off dead,” he shared.
“Kaya we tell people, don’t listen to that. That’s not you talking. But it’s easier said than done,” he added.
Manong Ari also reminded never to invalidate their problems by saying that what they go through is all in the mind and that they can easily snap out of it by will.
“They say happiness is a choice, and that we can choose to be happy. Yes, it’s true, if we’re normal,” he reasoned.
If anything, what a person can actually do to help is to simply listen and let them vent. The family, of all people, portrays the most crucial role.
“Kaso sometimes, the family don’t even know that they have it. It’s not that they don’t tell, it’s just that the family don’t understand. So they say gawa-gawa lang, nag-iinarte lang, naghahanap lang ng atensyon, or kulang lang sa dasal, not knowing na it’s physiological. There’s something wrong with the brain,” he lamented.
In regards to medication, Manong Ari disapproves of self-diagnosis, and urges to strictly follow the doctor’s prescription instead, “This is important, when you’re under medication, somebody close (proximity-wise) has to watch over you. It may have side effects, like a possible increase in your suicidal ideations. It takes time to find the right combination.”
On minimizing the stigma about the people with disorders
As a motivational speaker for nearly seven years, Manong Ari came to know that mental health conditions can hit people from all spectrum of society: rich and poor, young and old, spoiled and restricted, introvert and extrovert, anyone. That is why Kylie’s Facebook page, Mental Health Matters established its Mental Health Support Group, whose one of the administrators is her father.
Aware of the fact that psychiatric consultations often come with a high price, the primary goal of the group is to set up foundations in major cities and provinces that will offer affordable or free mental health assistance.
With the Senate’s approval of Mental Health Act, as well as with the support of several concerned organizations, Manong Ari hopes that a day happens when more people come out and be open about their condition and that the society holds no prejudice against them.
“Kylie also went through this, but look at what she’s achieved. As for me, I have businesses to supervise and more projects are coming along. There might be no cure, but we can manage it, we can treat it. We can still live a normal life,” Manong Ari said.
While he also believes that stigma will always be there one way or another, he said it can be minimized by putting things into proper perspective. “This is how it should be perceived, if you have a heart problem, you go to a cardiologist. If you have a lung problem, you go to a pulmonologist. So where do you go when you have a mental problem? A psychiatrist,” he explained.
What goes through the mind of a person with mental health disorder is unimaginable to the general public, but there is one certain thing that everyone must realize: they are not “cowards,” “sensitive,” or “weak.” They have just been strong for way too long.
With proper awareness about mental health issues, we might be able to help one another to keep going; and save a life.