"If depression is more normalized then we wouldn’t have to wait to interfere… Mental wellness and mental health is just health. Just like your body and physical health, it requires a whole spectrum and a whole list of things to keep healthy."
Patrick de Belen is a Filipino-Canadian spoken word artist based in Toronto, Canada, who’s well known in North America and the Philippines.
As an artist, he’s praised for his wit, creativity, passion and sharp social commentary. He’s done commercial work for the Toronto Raptors, NFL Players Association, World Vision and Elections Canada, but it’s his personal digital poetry collection In Between Lines (2020) that spoke to me the most and made me want to reach out and interview him.
The spoken word album has been called his most confessional work as an artist. In it, he bravely talks about his deepest fears and insecurities, and opens up about his longstanding mental health struggles.
Patrick and his brother Jordan both struggled with mental health issues growing up. In the Filipino culture, mental health problems are often dismissed and never talked about in the open. In 2021, Patrick found Jordan dead in his apartment after committing suicide. Jordan’s passing affected Patrick deeply. Since then, Patrick has been working on a documentary about Jordan’s life to remember him, volunteering at Bereaved Families Ontario, and writing poetry to help him cope with the tragedy. Patrick says he’s doing everything he can to stay too.
Patrick tells me he has always turned to writing and art to help him cope with his inner struggles, and today’s episode is a story of two brothers and their bond, mental health, art and healing.
Patrick de Belen: @patrick_debelen
Wiser Living with Sissi Wang: @wiserlivingpodcast
And here are my thoughts on mental health after talking to Patrick:
I don’t believe you if you tell me you’ve never suffered from poor mental health.
Here in North America, about one in five adults experience at least one mental illness each year, and around one in five teens have experienced a severe mental health disorder. Additionally, half of all teens will develop a disorder by the time they’re 14 years old with depression being the most common diagnosis.
Based on these statistics, it’s clear that mental health problems hit us early on in life as soon as we grow out of childhood, but it’s not surprising when we consider the spectrum of stressors coming at us everyday.
If you’re an adult, it’s common to experience financial stress from time to time and overwork from family duties in addition to your day job. For youth and young adults, the pressure of fitting in, finding your place in the world and navigating an uncertain future will gnaw at your mental health as well. Individuals living in poverty and those who have suffered trauma as a child are also more likely to develop a mental illness. When you add everything together, it’s impossible to find someone perfectly happy and healthy all the time after having lived for some time.
So given that we can’t always be in a stress-free and a mentally healthy state all the time, we must develop the skills to respond to life’s blows to protect our mental wellbeing. Patrick put it perfectly in our interview. He says mental health is a part of our overall health, and just like our physical health, we have to take care of it. Yet many of us (myself include) will dedicate a chunk of time to maintain our physical health but not as much when it comes to our mental health.
It’s interesting how throughout school we’re forced to take physed class, but there’s no equivalent class to improve our mental fitness. In many cultures, instead of being encouraged, it’s frowned upon to visit a psychiatrist or see a psychotherapist to get help for our poor mental health. The revelation that we’re struggling deep down inside is taken by society as there’s something wrong with us, and because of the social stigma attached to it, we never talk about it or seek help, and instead bury it inside, shrug it away, pretend we’re okay when the problem doesn’t get the attention it needs and accumulate every time we don’t acknowledge our inner struggles until we reach a breaking point. This is no way to live.
During our meeting, I asked Patrick why he thinks our society doesn’t like to talk about mental health and he tells me it’s because it’s hard and uncomfortable. Yes it is hard and uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.
If we compare our mental health to our physical health, how would our quality of life be if we lived with an ulcer that never got treated? It would be awful and we would hate every minute of it. We wouldn’t be able to get the most out of life and all our actions would be coloured by pain and misery; that’s what life with depression is like.
Hearing Patrick and Jordan’s story really drove home to me the importance of seeking help early on when we’re struggling with poor mental health and doing our part to normalize conversations about mental health. Patrick encourages all of us to talk about it, make it casual and part of our everyday conversations so it won’t be such a shock to hear depression and suicide being mentioned in a conversation, because that’s how we slowly remove the stigma around these topics and help more people access the range of mental health tools they need such as therapy, journaling, art and medication early before it’s too late.
In my own life, whenever I hit a period of low mood and spirit, I’ve now learned to turn to friends and family to cheer me up. Often times when we’re in a slump, the last thing we want to do is to go outside and interact with the world, but an online course in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) taught me to do the opposite of how we feel, and let our behaviour (in this case, going outside to talk to people) change our thinking (life is not so bad), which in turn change our mood (I feel better now).
Other helpful tools I learned from CBT include changing our negative self-talk and thoughts when we experience setbacks in life to get us out of a hopeless and unhelpful mental state into a more positive and productive state where we can bounce back from our setbacks and try again.
Many of these therapy tools aimed at different mental health issues are available in book forms, which you can borrow from local libraries if you can’t easily access a therapist. Practicing their teachings regularly (just like how we regularly work out at the gym) is how we improve our mental toughness and build resiliency to life’s challenges; and the earlier we learn to do that, the better our quality of your life will be.