Get to know Tisay, a 16-year-old mental health advocate from Samar.
Have you ever felt anxious?
Nervous, restless, and tense?
During high school, Tisay felt all these and all at once.
Outside, she would flash the sweetest smiles. But when no one else was watching, she would wallow in her negative emotions.
“Laughter hid my silent cries,” Tisay admitted. “I was always trying to hold back my tears because I was scared of being judged.”
At 16, Tisay struggled with anxiety.
REACHING OUT. Tisay, sitting on the rightmost, hanging out with her friends from school.
Breaking the silence
For Tisay, she noticed changes in herself after the separation of her parents. “I was forced to adjust to our new family situation,” she shared. “It was an unexpected setting and it affected me.”
“I was always longing for my family to reunite,” Tisay said in Waray.
One day, Tisay suddenly felt numb. “It was as if I froze and I felt nothing,” she recalled.
She then had difficulties breathing and started to palpitate. Later on, she learned from her doctor that this incident was her first panic attack.
A panic attack is the “abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes,” as defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
“My family took me to the hospital to consult with a mental health professional,” Tisay said. With the help of a doctor, Tisay and her family worked together to treat her anxiety.
The dominant symptoms of anxiety include “persistent nervousness, trembling, muscular tensions, sweating, lightheadedness, palpitations, dizziness, and epigastric discomfort,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Tisay considered this time as a journey towards self-discovery. She used this experience to learn more about mental health, herself, and on how she can help others who may have the same struggles as her.
“Mental health is just as important as one’s physical health,” Tisay said. “We should also take care of our mental well-being.”
In the Philippines, mental health isn’t as talked about as other health concerns. Tisay wants to change this.
“The only way we can remove the silence on mental health is to keep on talking about it and to raise awareness on the issue,” Tisay explained.
She encourages her fellow youth and their families to not be afraid to seek professional help when needed. There is no shame in looking for treatment.
Aside from consulting with a doctor and undergoing therapy, Tisay also found refuge from a friend.
“I found help from a friend who had the same experiences I did,” she said. “I opened up to her, and now she is my best friend.”
Tisay advises those who are having a difficult time to open up to someone they deeply trust. For example, it can be a relative, a good friend, a teacher or a guidance counselor.
“Now I enjoy spending time with friends, and sharing my thoughts and feelings with my grandparents,” she added. “I triumphed against my negative thoughts.”
Mental Health Advocate
Globally, 1 in 5 children and adolescents have a mental disorder, the WHO found. And around half of mental disorders begin before the age of 14.
This is why it is important for parents, teachers, and adult guardians to make sure that children and adolescents are able to freely and comfortably discuss their feelings and ideas with them.
Instead of putting stigma on the discussion of mental health, we should normalize these conversations.
Today, Tisay is one of Plan International’s Youth Peer Educators (YPE), trained by the RAISE Above Project.
YPEs provide information and counselling to their fellow students on relevant topics such as adolescent health, self-confidence, gender equality, and youth leadership.
“I am so happy because I am able to use my experiences and learnings to educate and inspire others,” Tisay said. “I will use my voice to promote the importance of mental health.”
“Adolescence is one of the most challenging life stages, and this often causes breakdown among many of our youth,” said Phil De Leon, learning specialist of the RAISE Above Project.
“But it is also the most exciting and self-revealing of all as we discover our personal identity, our passion, and our innermost strength,” De Leon continued.
“Please don’t give up on life. Once we find these things, with the help of friends and family, we can weather through anything life throws at us.”
Aside from opening up to trusted adults, peers, and mental health professionals like counselors, psychologist and psychiatrists (depending on the need), Tisay also advises fellow students to practice self-care:
get enough rest and sleep
cultivate hobbies and passions
discover new interests
allow yourself some alone time
foster friendships and meaningful connections
“Talking can really help,” Tisay added.
For those who enjoy writing, Tisay suggests keeping a daily journal or to write letters to their future selves. For artists, they may express themselves through paintings, illustrations, dance, photography, or any other form of art they are most comfortable with.
Most of all, “believe in yourself,” said Tisay.
The RAISE Above Project empowers adolescent girls, young women, and young men by making them better realize their rights to education and skills development. It is implemented by Plan International Philippines and is funded by Dubai Cares.
Dubai Cares is part of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives. It works towards providing children and young people in developing countries with access to quality education.