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The most difficult aspect of dealing with our mental health struggles is that we often feel like lone wolves fumbling in the dark. In these trying times, we are left to win the battle without a heavily-equipped army. Barely unseen even in the midst of a crowd, the heaviness of defeat and loneliness could be paralyzing. Despite our shrouded state of mind, may we find the quiet voice that tells us that there is always a “third way.” That sound could come from friends, family, and a supportive community that puts emphasis on understanding the true essence of mental health awareness.

The BALBO Philippines team spoke with FAM Mnl, a team of psychology professionals who advocate for mental health-centric conversations in the Philippine landscape. From destigmatizing to educating and creating safe spaces, the #GotchuFAM campaign runs deep on the essence of community and empathy towards oneself and understanding others. Read on to discover more about FAM Mnl, their journey, and how you can find yourself in the heart of their initiatives. As numbers hold power, know that you are never alone and that you never have to be.

What is FAM Mnl and how did it come to be?

FAM Mnl: FAM Mnl is a local mental health advocacy business that was launched last August 2019 by three clinical graduate students. Because we work in such close proximity with individuals who struggle with different mental health problems, we saw the need to openly address these types of issues. This prompted us to think of ways to encourage people to become comfortable discussing mental health. More than that, we want to foster a sense of family and build a community wherein people require safety to talk about their own mental health.

Who is behind FAM Mnl?

FAM Mnl: Just a little bit about us, we’re DJ and Jill! DJ is a licensed psychometrician and is a Master’s Candidate taking Clinical Psychology at De La Salle University-Manila. Currently, she is the Internship & Youth Advocacy coordinator at In Touch Community Services. As part of her clinical experience, she works as a volunteer counselor who specializes in treating anxiety, trauma, and eating disorders. Part of her work at In Touch includes being a Vol. HelpLine Responder. She also works part-time at MAGIS Creative Spaces as a mental health provider and expressive arts facilitator.

Jillen is a mental health provider for expressive arts psychosocial programs at MAGIS Creative Spaces, MAGIS integrates psychological and expressive arts-based methods in psychosocial support. She is a psychology graduate taking up her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology at De La Salle University-Manila and has experience in Psychological Assessment with Virlanie Foundation Inc. as well as Psychological Counseling at Divine Mercy Psychiatric Facility. Jillen is also a preschool teacher, a licensed Kids Yoga Instructor, and a Mindfulness Coach.

What are your initiatives and how do you carry them out?

FAM Mnl: Our initiatives go beyond selling mental health-related items. While we create and post shareable and digestible content about mental health issues on our social media pages, we also do mental health-related webinars, talks, and workshops for the youth, support youth organizations, companies, schools, individuals, and anyone interested! Then, we keep ourselves involved with mental health organizations, such as the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH), Philippine General Hospital (PGH), and more.

By your own sentiments, why do you think it’s important to talk about mental health today? Share with us the different topics that you bring to light.

FAM Mnl: In our culture, it’s taboo to talk about mental health. It has been observed that when the topic of suicide, anxiety or depression becomes part of the conversation, it is either criticized, ignored, or taken lightly. We aim to change that and build an avenue where the talk of mental health can be open. We want to normalize reminding one another that we are not alone in dealing with these issues and that seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of. On all our platforms, we really try to gather as many people as we can and open the floor for difficult topics, such as grief, suicide, depression. After all, you never really know who needs that kind of support the most.

Tell us more about the research or data you’ve gathered regarding depression rates in the Philippines.

FAM Mnl: FAM aims to raise awareness about Mental Health & promote Psychoeducation. Our main advocacy is centered on destigmatizing mental health. That means we want people to know that mental illness & making mental health your priority is something that we all need to talk about. According to the Global Burden of Disease study in 2015, Suicide rates in the Philippines are up to 1.9% females, 5.8% males, and 3.8% for both sexes for every 100,000 of the general population. Data from the same study showed that the Philippines has over close to 9 million mental problems prevalent cases and 2.6 million of which are depression. These terrifying numbers are continuously rising as of 2019.

There are many different ways to talk about sensitive topics such as depression, trauma, and suicide. How do we open up these types of conversations among peers, family members, and workmates?

FAM Mnl: It’s mainly about practicing empathy. Another important point is to simply show up and listen with kindness and an open heart, especially when it is already so difficult for most to share how they feel. To talk about something difficult, one should be comfortable and ready to share as well and find a method of communication where you feel most yourself and which feels right for you. If it is truly difficult at first, you can try journaling first before expressing your words aloud (even just to yourself). When it comes to finding your own voice when explaining your mental health with friends and family, be sure to set boundaries and let them know if you are seeking advice or simply want a listening ear.

FAM isn’t just about selling products and making money. Everything we offer has an underlying purpose to raise awareness about mental health. Because they help to spread the message faster, our merchandise is a collection of shirts, bucket hats, eco-bags, journals, and stickers. Through these, our buyers and supporters are given the opportunity to share their knowledge and stories through powerful narratives. When we talk about our own struggles, we begin to build that foundation for healing, empathy, and connection with other people.

Let’s discuss empathy. What is it, and what does it truly mean to be empathetic towards other people?

FAM Mnl: This is a great question. The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. In simple terms, empathy is the ability to understand things from another person’s perspective. It’s the ability to share someone else’s feelings and emotions and understand why they’re having those feelings or “placing oneself in the shoes of another”.

It is so important that we all practice being empathic and showing empathy, support, and kindness to one another especially in the time of social and physical distancing. When we can’t provide our warm embrace or our physical presence, we are then left to provide only the comfort of our words. More than knowing what to do or say to a friend in need, it’s important to focus on helping that person feel better. To truly be empathic and care for others, try to walk in the person’s shoes. Imagine you are them and put things into perspective.

Looking ahead, what are your goals as a community-driven organization? What inspires you to keep moving forward?

FAM Mnl: We also have new upcoming products that cater to taking care of oneself holistically, more partnerships with other companies and organizations who want to join us in our mission. FAM continuously partners with various brands and organizations to aid in the expansion of our reach. We want to be able to provide more workshops, webinars, talks, and so forth, to everybody!

One of the core services of FAM is our FAM talks, which are interactive workshops and webinars that focus on a variety of current and relevant topics about mental health. We also offer private expressive art sessions for groups, communities, and various organizations. The FAM Expressions Wellbeing Program is focused on the basics of self-care, mental health, and self-expression. It is a safe space for teams to connect with each other, and individuals connect with themselves, and create better relationships with others and themselves, through the arts. We also aim to continue to donate bi-annually to mental health organizations, support youth organizations and hopefully save lives and make a difference.

Shop the FAM Mnl x BALBO collaboration here. For daily updates, follow FAM Mnl on Instagram.

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