Article by Elijah Juniel De Los Santos Corpus MΣΦ 2021

DAGUPAN, Pangasinan – After receiving an overwhelming amount of support and enthusiasm from over 1200 students, teachers, filmmakers, photographers, policymakers, and mental health advocates all over the country, the 3rd Quisumbing-Escandor Film Festival for Health, in fulfilling its initial goal of raising awareness for mental health, has been extended a dignified opportunity to become more than what it was conceived to be – to fulfill its potential to be an impetus for change, a voice to those who have been forced to hide. Last May 19 at the City of Dagupan, we celebrated the fulfillment of this promise as the Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity of the UP College of Medicine began the first leg of the Quisumbing-Escandor Film Caravan: its answer to the call of not just raising awareness, but of directly bringing mental health, through the power of films, to the Filipino people.

With the unyielding support of Mayor Belen T. Fernandez and her dedicated team, the Quisumbing-Escandor Film Caravan kicked off at the CSI City Mall, Dagupan City, Pangasinan. In observance of the Dagupan Mental Health Awareness Week, over 300 teachers, guidance counselors, local government officials, and representatives from the business and religious sectors gathered to learn more about the different facets of mental health through the films “Kaktus”, “Umaga Kasama si Elena”, and “Comfort Room”. After each film, an open forum took place where a panel of concerned experts, including a child neurologist, a psychiatrist, a speech pathologist, a gender rights advocate, and a social worker, would answer and discuss questions raised by the audience regarding the film. This processing was the way in which the caravan aimed to use film as a powerful medium to spark a conversation, to get people to start talking.

In her opening remarks, Mayor Fernandez solidified Dagupan City’s pledge in ending the stigma against mental health, underscoring the importance of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the city’s youth. With teachers and guidance counselors as the main audience of the event, this leg of the caravan aimed to shed light on mental health in the context of our country’s educational system, focusing not so much on the bigger picture, but rather on the primary point of contact: the relationship between a teacher and his or her student. It was a question of how equipped our teachers are in appropriately handling a student with a mental health condition, be it depression or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or even schizophrenia? We put on centerstage the teacher’s role as a child’s second parent, as someone with the direct ability to influence a child and have an impact on his or her future.

As what was hoped for, the post-film processing and discussions were as productive and enlightening as they could have been. Issues surrounding mental health, particularly among our youth, our children, and our students were tackled holistically – with questions ranging from common misconceptions, debunking myths, clarifying concepts, knowing the appropriate intervention, where to ask for help, when to ask for help, and many more. However, if there was one takeaway message that became apparent throughout the discussions, it was again the crucial role of our teachers and the indispensable part they play in protecting the welfare, the mental health, of our country’s youth.

Our teachers are, as one panelist have said, our ‘first line of defense’. They have with them the advantage of having to spend most of the day with a child. They have the opportunity to build a relationship with their students and become their second parents, a home away from home. They can provide the earliest form of detection and intervention. It is but a must then that our teachers become empowered to take on this role: that they be equipped with the right tools and the appropriate knowledge to be our society’s primary point of care in safeguarding the mental health of our youth.

This marks the first of many Caravan Screenings that will be held in the months to come all around the Philippines. Stay tuned for the next leg in a cinema, school, or barangay near you! #QEFFCaravan #MoveforMH #MentalHealthPH #EndTheStigma