The month of October may be just an ordinary month to some. For mental health advocates, October is an even better time to spread awareness about mental health and break the stigma.
Doctors of the Philippine Psychiatric Association (PPA) and Hiraya at Sining took advantage of both the Mental Health Awareness Month and World Mental Health Day on October 10th for a film festival brought to the public in partnership with COPE UP, a university-based mental health organization at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
It was Dr. Rhea Concepcion, the Project Director and immediate past President of PPA, who came up with the concept of PELI-ISIPAN (Pelikula at Isipan: Sulyap sa Isip sa Likod ng Lente) Film Festival on Mental Health Awareness in 2018 during her term.
The film festival is the first of its kind. According to Dr. Concepcion, it’s the first time that short films on mental health are portrayed by an all-Filipino psychiatrist cast with seven film entries from groups of psychiatrists practicing in the National Capital Region, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
The doctors had to undergo scriptwriting and acting workshops in September 2018. They were conducted by multi-awarded, respected, and talented people in the indie film industry — multi-awarded indie film director and screenwriter Director Zig Dulay and Director Charita Castinlag, who is an assistant director and team member of Director Brillante Mendoza.
By October to November of 2018, the physician-psychiatrists were already prepared for the filming period of their respective groups. The PPA held the Premiere and Awards Night for this first-ever film festival in their last Annual Convention on January 24 this year.
Much for achieving the goal of this project, Dr. Rhea Concepcion thought of further expanding its reach to the public — to students, professors, families, friends, mental health advocates, and many other people outside the field of science and medicine.
With a student-friendly ticket price of only 150 pesos, the film festival also serves as a fundraising project through a psychoeducation activity that promotes mental health advocacy. Proceeds will go to the mental health advocacy programs of the Philippine Psychiatric Association.
PELI-ISIPAN Film Festival launched a two-day screening of the short films, of which both consist of a panel discussion with the doctors. Held at the University of the Philippines Integrated School’s auditorium, the first four films showed on October 10, 2019 were Piring, Pagpag, Bulanon, and Basag na Pangarap. On the second day, October 11th, the last three films were Sulyap, Bintana, and Ang Pagbalik sa Ugat-Hinungdan (A Return to the Reason).
On mental health awareness through filmmaking
Dr. Concepcion is one to love the arts so much that she believes through creative expression, people can become aware of the many issues that are social, political, and even psychological.
Not only that, she even took inspiration from the many emerging mental health organizations that are taking on awareness advocacies in their own unique ways. To Dr. Rhea Concepcion, this is what sparked the PELI-ISIPAN project in the first place
“It makes me a little guilty to think that some concerned groups and individuals have started and have been continuously initiating moves for public awareness and education on mental health through a creative medium such as film. If other groups and individuals have the genuine concern to reach out and educate the public in a meaningful and powerful way, why don’t we do it right here in our own home, in the PPA?” said Dr. Concepcion.
She believes that films can be a powerful means of depicting stories about mental health, which can also present the dynamics of mental illness that can lead to compassion.
Dr. Ronaldo Elepaño also noted that “We, as a psychiatrist, will somewhat encompass everything that we do. When you look at life, in general, there is always a subtext of mental health.”
During the preparation and in the making of their films, Dr. Concepcion explained how they immersed themselves in the lives of people — in their respective roles, more specifically. She further stressed that as a psychiatrist, they, too, experience their own personal challenges in life and they believe that their profession is an advantage in living through the lives of others by entering the realm of film, covering both the imagination and reality at the same time.
Dr. Imelda Batar, the lead actor of Pagpag, explained her experience in immersing into her character:
“When you’re a psychiatrist, it’s very important to have empathy. Ginagamit namin ‘yun para maintindihan namin ‘yung nararamdaman ng pasyente. Pero when it comes to the role, mahirap siya. Maraming nagtatanong sa ‘kin kung saan ko hinugot ‘yun. Pero tingin ko kasi lahat naman tayo naka-experience na ng some sort of loss in our life, so nakatulong din sa akin ‘yun.”
Dr. Concepcion even added: “Gusto kong malaman ninyo na ang mga psychiatrists ay tao rin lang na katulad niyo. Kung alam niyo rin lang kung ano ang aming mga pinagdadaanan sa buhay, we all have also our own personal challenges, just like you.”
On the discussion about mental health and society
During the panel discussion, Dr. Batar said that mental health is a community responsibility.
“It’s not just the responsibility of one person, but we owe it to our fellow human beings to be responsible also for their well-being,” said Dr. Batar.
When asked about how the short films aim to educate, Dr. Christine Lagman expressed her sentiments:
“Kinailangan pa naming gumawa ng pelikula para lang ma-explain na these are psychiatric illnesses. Nobody does that to explain a heart illness or cancer. We all understood that they are a medical condition. Pero hirap tanggapin ng mga tao ‘yung may mga depression, anxiety, or psychosis. Nakikita sila na there’s some flaw in their character, na there’s some flaw in their personality. Sana lahat tayo ma-recognize natin that these people need help. They should not be ostracized.”
This was seconded by Dr. Concepcion as she explained how they are strongly working on breaking the stigma. She acknowledges that there are still a lot of people who feel scared to come out and ask for help.
“Kapag mental health kasi ang pinag-usapan, daig pa niyan na na-opera ka o nagkaroon ka ng medical illness na somehow gagaling after a while. Pero ang mental illness, kapag dumapo ito sa’yo, buong pagkatao mo at buong sistema mo ay affected rin. Not only you, but the people around you ay bumabagsak din. Nahihila pababa. Sila rin, later on, you will find out na mayroon na ring mga mental health issues,” said Dr. Concepcion.
The director of Piring, Director Jayvee Margaja, also explained how their film incorporated the issue of drug addiction and the political stigma attached to it due to the War on Drugs operation:
“As far as I can see, the reason why some people are okay with what’s happening is that they’re not connected to them. They don’t personally know them. I wanted [the character] to take that journey to get close to someone who was actually killed in all of this and to see, you know, just have them feel that loss. Maybe, just maybe, maybe that will shake her out of what’s she’s feeling about addicts.”
At the end of the day, this film festival project only aims to incept people with the idea of empathy, more than kindness.
Despite the difference in themes, the films only call for one thing — and it’s to respect people and the individuality of each person, be it with or without mental health problems.