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Eat Bulaga host and comedian Joey De Leon’s public apology on his dismissive remarks about depression was done right, but it should not be the end of his dealings on mental health issues. Education and engagement in discussions should follow.

In the noon time show’s Sugod Bahay segment on Friday, October 6, De Leon apologized in public for his dismissive remarks about depression the day before about an elder woman who was diagnosed with the mental disorder.

“’Yung depression, gawa-gawa lang ng mga tao iyan. Gawa nila sa sarili nila,” he said.

When Maine Mendoza interjected that depression is no laughing matter, that many young people are afflicted by it and that those who suffer from it should be given moral support, the comedian persistently replied, “Hindi. Huwag niyong suportahan. Gawa-gawa lang niya ‘yun. Pabayaan niyo.”

De Leon’s name quickly skyrocketed to the top of Twitter’s local trends list as he was called out online by netizens for his ‘grossly misinformed’ statements.

In his apology, the 70-year-old host admitted that he was wrong for mistaking stress and depression as one and same. He said he was not aware of the gravity of the said mental health issue.

On and on, people expressed their disappointment over De Leon considering that he has massive influence to Filipinos of all ages, gender and background.

Naging mababaw po ang pagtanggap ng inyong lingkod sa salitang ‘yan. Nagkamali po ako. So ako po’y humihingi ng paumanhin sa mga napaitan sa mga nabanggit ko at humihingi ng inyong unawa,” he said.

De Leon’s experience should set an example for many others who still consider depression as just a phase or mere sadness. It is not ‘gutom lang’ or petty attention-seeking. It is emptiness, loss of energy, a change in appetite, and sleeping more or less at night. It is anxiety, reduced concentration, indecisiveness, restlessness and feelings of worthlessness. It is guilt, hopelessness and the worst of them all, thoughts of self-harm or suicide. It is a battle some survive while others could not.

Trivializing this condition is outright invalidation of the daily struggles of anyone who is depressed. It is a serious mental health condition affecting 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In the Philippines, over 3.29 million Filipinos, most of them aged 15-29, suffer from depression. It is the highest amount of cases in Southeast Asia and proof that it’s a legitimate concern.

For sincerely owning up to his mistake and being humble enough to recognize his unawareness, De Leon deserved just as much praise as the hate he received because of his remarks. Admitting one’s mistake can be very difficult, but not only did the comedian admitted his own shortcoming, he did it on national TV, to all the viewers, to all who are suffering from depression and to Mendoza.

But while De Leon’s apology was done right and therefore much-welcomed, it takes more than public admission and an expression of regret on saying such comments to fight the stigma.  It takes active participation in learning more about mental health.

Educating the comedian and practically everyone in the same situation as him starts with knowing the facts, reading up on credible material. He can also sit down with advocates in discussions. Attending forums and gatherings set to happen on World Mental Health Day this coming October 10 or throughout the month can also be a good start.

He could also reach out to his loved ones who are suffering from depression. This way, he can gain a bit more perspective on the possible causes or triggers of mental health conditions and how it affects people in their personal and professional lives.

Hating the man cannot contribute anything to the cause, especially when there is so much work ahead for various sectors of the society to tackle this issue head on.

Efforts to spread awareness, foster support systems and instill sensitivity among fellow Filipinos should be top priority. That’s something we could all do for progressive and positive results that won’t be ‘gawa-gawa lang.’

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