You’ve been a volunteer speaker at Beyond Blue for 7 years now, since 2016. What motivated you to become a speaker?
I have lived experience with depression and anxiety. At the beginning of my mental health journey, I felt so alone, confused, and ashamed. I didn’t tell anyone about my struggles in fear of being judged. I also knew that my family wouldn’t understand what I was going through.
I started opening up about my mental health experience in my Toastmasters speeches, at a previous corporate Toastmasters club. I was so scared but I eventually “came out” and made a speech about my depression, which shocked everyone since I had kept such a facade the whole time. I ended up delivering that speech all the way to the Toastmasters Western Division Inspirational Speech contest. After that speech, so many people in my club, the company I worked for, and other Toastmasters clubs opened up to me about their own experiences - about their own mental health struggles or about someone they knew. I found that a lot of people actually resonated with my story.
I decided to apply as a volunteer speaker for Beyond Blue because I had personally used their resources in my recovery, and found the entire organisation to be so helpful. I applied for a speaking position because I wanted to raise awareness around mental health, especially in the Asian and CALD communities. My hope was to help normalise conversations around mental health and in the process, encourage others to come out of the shadows and seek help. I wanted people to know that they’re not alone and that there’s always hope.
You primarily promote mental health awareness in the Asian and CALD communities. What are common threads and stories that you often hear in these communities?
Since I have an Asian background, I’ve experienced the misconceptions, stigma, and cultural barriers to seeking help in the Asian community firsthand. I’ve discovered that the experiences are very similar for other CALD communities, from prior speaking engagements.
What I often hear is that there’s this pressure to perform academically and achieve. I’ve met so many young people who feel this pressure, and parents who acknowledge that they place this pressure on their children too. For many Asians and migrants, the key to success is through education and hard work because there’s such limited job opportunities and high competition back in their home countries. Parents often just want their children to have the best chance in life. Unfortunately, this can result in perfectionism, low self-esteem, and equating self-worth to achievements and success, which can affect people’s mental health.
There’s also a common misconception that seeking help or treatment for your mental health is a sign of weakness. Or that going to counselling or therapy is only for “crazy” people, when in truth seeking help earlier on is a sign of courage, and a smart choice. Mental health should be treated as seriously as physical health, and it’s better to seek help early on, rather than later when it’s worse. Besides, many people don’t realise that there are so many treatment options to help with your recovery. It’s not a one size fits all situation.
Another thing that’s prevalent in the CALD communities, is a feeling of guilt. Often, when younger people open up about their mental health struggles to their parents, they may get a response that invalidates their emotions and experiences because their parents have gone through “real hardship” in comparison, and they’re often dismissed as being “too emotional or sensitive”. As a result, it’s likely that they’re left undiagnosed. And then when an individual does get diagnosed with a mental health condition, so much shame and stigma is attached to it. It’s treated like a “dirty secret” or a taboo topic.
How do you think your Filipino culture and support network affected your relationship with your mental health?
Initially, it was tough. The concept of “depression” is lost amongst the community simply because most Filipinos are happy and fun-loving. People think that you’re just lonely. You’re told that the remedy is to not take life too seriously, to go out, and talk to friends. Also, a lot of Filipinos are religious, so I heard a lot of advice from well-meaning friends and family members to pray and “have a stronger faith in God”. Although praying can help, it’s sometimes not enough.
Most Filipinos are also family-oriented, and fortunately I became much closer to my family as I got older. I only begun to become more open about my struggles when I saw symptoms of depression in other family members. It was important to educate my family on mental health, so that my experiences weren’t repeated in my other family members. We’ve definitely come a long way. I acknowledge that they don’t always get things right, but I understand that they mean well, and that we are all still learning together in the process. I also know that they want to help and support me, but sometimes don’t know how to.
How has being more open about your mental health, and sharing your story with strangers, colleagues, friends and family impacted you?
What I’ve come to realise is, there’s power in telling our stories. By sharing my story, I’m creating a safe space for others. I’m letting people know that they’re not alone and allowing them to feel okay about not being okay, and giving them a space to open up about their own struggles. In my small way, I’m helping normalise conversations around mental health - creating a space for dialogue and learning. I’m empowering others to seek help and maybe even help others. And in the process, I’m also empowering myself.
A revolution starts with one person. If I can influence one person to change their mind about mental health, my hope is that they pass that knowledge forward to someone else.
What has personally helped you the most on your mental health journey?
For me, counselling, self-care, and being more open about my mental health journey have allowed me to live a more authentic and meaningful life.
Counselling and going to therapy has made me feel seen and helped me become more self-aware. It also helped me understand what I was going through, and I learned some practical strategies to manage my anxiety and depression that I still use to this day.
Self-care is now an important part of my life and routine. I have a Self-care Toolkit, and it’s not all massages, facials, and warm baths. I try to do things that I enjoy, like painting, drawing, cooking, and travelling. I try to live a healthier lifestyle, exercise regularly, and spend more time in nature. I love hiking! I also do all sorts of workouts, like yoga, zumba, dance fitness, swimming, pilates, strength and conditioning, HIIT, and Strong Nation classes. I try to connect with friends and family regularly, and reach out when I’m struggling. I try to journal, pray, and meditate. I also like learning new things. Right now, I’m learning tennis and Spanish. But I’ve also tried learning basketball, piano, snowboarding, baking, and making my own pasta. I’ll give anything a crack!