Depression is a luxury of the rich

By Jean Charisse A. Arboleda

In a span of a month, I’ve heard several Caucasian friends complain about being depressed. I couldn’t help but scoff at these undiagnosed declarations. I don’t mean to lessen their grief or sadness but everybody has problems. It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s how you carry it.

From Wikipedia, I learned that depression is the state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings and physical well-being. For me, depression is a decision; choosing to remain in a state of sadness or deciding every day to be happy and to do what you have to do.

Filipinos almost never mention being depressed. Being perpetually under the bright, tropical sun, being surrounded by thousands of gorgeous islands, getting the freshest seafood and the sweetest mangoes at every street corner, one can’t help but be irritably happy. (We’re irritable because the scorching sun burns the skin until it’s itchy but we’re happy just the same.)

That’s just scratching the surface, though. That’s summarily discrediting all that is great and admirable about our people, especially when we’re abroad.

Filipinos are known to be very resilient under hard and even tortuous circumstances. Coming from an economically poor country, Filipinos cannot afford to be depressed. If one Filipina decides to be depressed and stops working as a nanny in Hong Kong, a whole family of five in Cebu will stop getting that remittance, two kids will stop going to school, a son in college will have to stop and find a job at a restaurant to help support the family, and the house she’s amortizing stops construction.

Filipinos also tend to gravitate towards kababayans and seek each other out. We know where to go to find fellow Filipinos, we follow the smell of ‘adobo’ and ‘sisig,’ make friends and get invited to this new friend’s third cousin’s son’s wedding in Atlantic City.

Filipino culture allows sons and daughters to continue living in the family home until they get married and even after they are married. We are very family-centered and we continue to be involved in each other’s lives.

Americans (fine, those four Caucasians that I know), do the exact opposite. They can’t wait to leave, shed their parents’ supportive cloak and be on their own. They are just itching to start their independent lives. On their own, they stay cocooned in their cozy, lonely world. Yes, it does sound liberating and exciting to be on your own for a while. But one way or another, you have to reach out to childhood friends, family, co-workers, anyone.

And so it goes. The continued positivity of Filipinos — despite hardships — is inspiring. Some luxuries are just not worth it.

Jean Charisse A. Arboleda loves to write and travel. She would love to go on a train ride on the California Zephyr from Chicago to L.A. if she ever finds the time. She works two jobs: a receptionist at a theater district restaurant and a paralegal-in-training at a law office.


  1. Dan wrote:

    yes thanks for pointing out observations between western and developing countries.
    I too have noticed the difference and feel this is one likely factor of depression.

    But please don’t view depression lightly or as something individuals choose for themselves.
    Until you have been in their shoes (and I have), you cannot understand what a person is going through.
    By the way, I am Asian, and I can tell you depression does not discriminate when it comes to race.

  2. Erina wrote:

    I find this a good conversation starter but starry eyed and uninformed. Research done on Filipino/a, Fil-Am mental health by Tompar-Tui et al (1995), Nadal (2009) and many others explore depression in our communities! Such an idealization that Filipino/as cannot afford to be depressed reinforces ideas like the Model Minority Myth and does nothing to challenge our colonial mentalities socialized by Spanish and American values. This article perpetuates false assumptions that Fil-Am values combat against experiencing depression–ironically several psychological aspects of our culture contribute to the lack of awareness of mental health issues in our communities (i.e. hiya (shame), kapwa (togetherness)).

  3. Sunshine SJ wrote:

    I like the helpful information you provide in your articles.

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