Why safe spaces are important for women’s mental health

A 2020 article by Time Magazine said women are three times more likely than men to report suffering from significant mental health challenges. Its effects — anxiety, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, and trouble completing daily tasks, just to name a few — can hinder women from living their best lives. But all hope is not lost. Creating safe spaces where these women can receive psychosocial support is one great step.


In celebration of International Women’s Month, telecommunications company Telus International Philippines in partnership with sustainable brand Messy Bessy hosted a virtual event dubbed as “When Life Gives You Lemons, Squeeze the Day.” Attended by the companies’ executives and members of the media, the event saw medicine and mental health expert Dr. Gia Sison giving a keynote discussion about women’s mental health, particularly how to create safe spaces for them.

“Mental health is a state of well-being where people would realize their own potential and be able to cope with stress, to work productively and to serve communities,” Sison began, defining the ideal state of mental health.

She furthered that to achieve this ideal state, the biological, psychological, and social components of mental health must be given attention. But the expert said that is not always the case. Genetics, high-risk jobs, disparity in income, unfair work distribution at home, life stage, and negative life events, among many others, can negatively affect mental health, especially women’s who have been on the receiving end of gender inequality.

Hence, Sison recommended, “We should start building psychologically safe spaces as because it’s about time.”

Safe spaces can be created through support groups where people come together to talk about a challenge, experience, and/or role that they have in common without judgement, stigma, or isolation. However, an ideal support group should not focus solely on the negative, it should also be an avenue to build on each other’s strengths.

These safe spaces can be built with peers, in clinics, or even online, as Sison said, “You can start from your immediate circle. When we talk about support groups, it doesn’t have to be [where] everyone doesn’t know each other. It can start actually from home or from someone you know. You can start it off with a dialogue and it can grow exponentially as deemed needed.”

Support groups are different from group therapy as it is more relaxed and it encourages positive interactions. Sison added, “I think one rule that we should follow is that there should be no expectations that the other person should fix me. Support groups allow women to own their concerns and it actually provides a space for healing, growth and expression.”

For those who want to start their support groups to try to help people they know who have mental health issues, Sison imparted a few tips.

One, just be there and listen. “Avoid giving advice unless asked because when we talk, our tendency agad is to give advice. But most of the time, the person just needs someone to listen. So let’s not forget that — just listen proactively.”

Two, do not invalidate other people’s feelings. “We love to say sometimes unconsciously, yung ‘wala yan.’ When we say that to another individual, it’s very invalidating. The best way to be of support to another, again, is just be there to listen.”

Three, do not compare. “Yung remark na ‘ako nga eh.’ One thing we have to avoid also is to compare our journey to others because we journey in different ways. We see challenges in different ways as well.”

In ending, Sison reminded that support groups should not replace proper medical intervention for those suffering from mental stress and depression. The Sunday Times Magazine asked Sison for indicators that it’s time to seek a professional.

“Let’s not wait for the time that it’s really bad. We have this so-called Five Ds. There’s dysfunction, distress, deviance, danger, and duration. Of course, as a disclaimer, this is not a talk to diagnose but I’ll give an example of a case of depression. Usually, depression is more than two weeks [straight] of intense sadness, lack of sleep, and you can’t concentrate,” she explained.

“If your quality of life is already compromised — which is so to speak, you can’t concentrate — that should already be a trigger for you to seek support,” Sison ended.

To join a support group, Dr. Gia Sison suggests the Lunas Collective Facebook Group. For free to low-cost mental health services, visit bit.ly/MHServicesPH.