Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Representing Architects At Play and Kultivation Festival, Joseph spent the evening chatting (virtually) with Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau about the difficulties facing Winnipeg's Filipino community due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Joining five other community leaders and Members of Parliament, Jo stressed the importance of addressing mental health in the community and asked the Prime Minister to take action on a number of initiatives to help address this in the Filipino community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created, perhaps, the most ideal conditions for a potentially disastrous mental health crisis for the Filipino community. It has done this in two ways: 1) by creating the conditions under which Filipinos are most stressed, and 2) removing almost all coping methods traditionally used within the Filipino culture.

Two of the most common stress-inducing triggers that have been identified by Filipinos as leading to depression are financial difficulties and separation from family. COVID-19 has brought both these triggers boiling to the surface quite rapidly. Not only are Filipino-Canadians concerned about keeping the lights on in their own homes and businesses, many are worried about the inability to support their families back home. In 2017, a Statistics Canada study showed that Filipinos sent more than $1.2 billion to the Philippines, over $400 million more than any other country. So, Filipino-Canadians feel that added stress compared to other cultural groups. When it comes to separation from family, you might be aware that Filipino households often shelter three generations. This means that grandchildren are having to isolate themselves from grandparents living under the same roof. Added to this is the fact that Filipinos are generally closely connected to extended family members who live in close proximity to one another. It’s not uncommon for multiple families to gather together on a weekly, or even daily, basis. The effect of the pandemic for Filipinos is similar to that of your loved ones moving far away, which causes heightened concern and anxiety. 

The big problem with mental health in the Filipino community is that the topic is most closely aligned with severe stigma and fear. Nobody wants to discuss it. As a result, Filipinos tend to deny, somatize, or simply endure emotional hardships, rather than seek out services. In lieu of western-style therapy, Filipinos rely on alternative coping methods. Three of the most common are going to church (which turns suffering into spiritual sacrifice), engaging in cultural/community activities (which stimulates the positive effects of productivity, acceptance, and friendship), and enduring any emotional hardships though patience (Filipino “resilience”). Due to physical/social distancing protocols, COVID-19 has essentially eliminated the first two methods, leaving the third as the most likely option. However, as you can probably guess, patience can only endure so long before it inevitably fails.

There is a significant lack of awareness of mental health issues in the Filipino community, which is combined with a culture that is passive in communicating inner turmoil, in an effort to preserve reputation and “be strong”. In other words, individual hardships are overshadowed or suppressed, in an effort to advance the needs of the whole (family/friends/groups/community). The COVID-19 pandemic has created the setting for this approach to implode (or explode), and this can be most greatly witnessed within the community of essential workers (in healthcare) and frontline workers (in service and hospitality).

Joseph asked Prime Minister Trudeau to lead the federal government in achieving three initiatives. First, Joseph asked that Statistics Canada provide race-based statistical data on the effects of COVID-19. This would ensure that policy makers can make appropriate decisions based on actionable information and Filipino group leaders can educate the community about the actual effects of the pandemic. Secondly, Joseph asked that the government task one of our many community organizations with translating important information about COVID-19 and mental health. This does not mean simply typing things into Google Translate and hitting "print". This is about transposing documents into something that is culturally relevant and gives context to the information so that people listen, understand, and care enough to act. Finally, Joseph asked that the government earmark new money for projects that address mental health in the Filipino culture. This could take the form of a piece of music, a dance video, a film, an animation, etc. Encouraging our community to share our stories and discuss our experiences within platforms that speak to us could help to end the stigma associated with mental health.