By PAOLA NAVARETTE
At just 27 years old, Raymond John Naguit is already a doctor, activist, and the chairperson of Youth For Mental Coalition, the first SEC-registered mental health organization in the Philippines. Most of the time, he lends his voice in support of causes that are close to his heart, such as mental health, harm reduction, and prison reform. Now he takes one step forward as he engages with larger, similar-minded institutions to integrate mental health in schools and workplaces. We spoke to Raymond to find out what inspires and drives him to shape the community around him.
What prompted you to promote mental health awareness?
People always think that before you can become a mental health advocate, you need to have depression. For any advocacy, you don’t necessarily have to have a condition before you feel empathy for other people. So, for me, my personal experience was when I received a suicide note during high school. With that, I realized that the things we experience, like mental problems, are things shared by others, so that’s why when I define mental health advocacy, I say that it’s a public response to a shared, but private thing.
You are the co-founder and at the same time the national chairperson of Youth For Mental Health Coalition. Can you give an overview of your work as the chairman of the organization?
Youth For Mental Health Coalition (Y4MH) was formed in 2016 when I was in medical school. It came about after different youth organizations gathered to address the need for an improved mental health system and awareness in the country. We realized that we can’t do everything alone. To pass a law, you need to broaden your network and find your allies.
My main job is to set the tone, determine what are the steps to move forward, and help to create a space where people can bind together to come up with a collective response.
The first thing that we do is policy work. Right now, we are helping with the technical work in the Department of Health’s Adolescent Health and Development Program. We are also working with the Department of Labor and Employment to create mental health guidelines in the workplace.
Sometimes, we’re wondering if we’re still doing the right thing but I trust that all our efforts will create a ripple effect later on.
The second thing we do is mental health education because, as you know, social stigmas have been high and not all people can easily open up. We reach out to people by going to different places, especially in provinces where not everyone can access mental health services.
The third part is that we also try to facilitate service delivery programs. One thing that we’re working on is a partnership with SMDC to conduct support group sessions in several of their condominiums. Building a community in their properties would be helpful for students who are away from their families.
What was the toughest challenge you have ever faced?
The biggest challenge for me is to deliver outcomes. Sometimes, we’re wondering if we’re still doing the right thing but I trust that all our efforts will create a ripple effect later on. You just need to do the small things first. Right now, I want measurable outcomes. We might have reduced the stigma on mental health with the passage of the Philippine Mental Health Law, but we don’t have the figures to show.
Another challenge is how to easily recover from burnout. There’s a lot of things happening in society and I have to stay strong because I receive multiple suicide texts and calls every day. One of our founders died by suicide last year. It was a very difficult time for us. Depression can affect anyone, and that situation strengthened our will to do something concrete about it.
What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of the organization?
Youth For Mental Coalition is considered as a service user representative, similar to a patient group. But we recognize that we’re not a patient group itself, but we’re an advocacy organization. Well, some of us are diagnosed so we make it to a point that they are also represented.
The victory that I want to highlight is that we’re not just creating youth hubs and putting the spotlight on us, we’re trying to put everyone’s attention to those people who are not heard because usually there is a big gap between what the policymakers are saying and what the service users usually do.
How has work changed your life?
I think it changed my perspective in terms of mental health itself. Coming from a medical and nursing background, the usual approach to mental health is very biomedical. But I think the more sustainable way of addressing that one is to look at it at a community level. The factors that affect our mental well being are present in our community, and these are easily modifiable if we decide to address them collectively.