Before the screening of Bliss in TriNoma in Quezon City, a short video about mental health was shown.
Produced by the Philippine Psychiatric Association, it showed different celebrities saying “I have a mental health problem,” and urging viewers to sign a petition to help pass the Mental Health Act.
On May 2, 2017, the Philippine Senate passed the Senate Bill 1345 or the Philippine Mental Health Bill, creating a national mental health policy. This coincided with the celebration of National Mental Health Awareness Month.
This writer found the video fitting as Bliss turned out to be a film that sheds light on mental health conditions and raises mental health awareness.
Bliss is a psychological thriller directed, written, edited, and scored by Jerrold Tarrog (Heneral Luna, Sana Dati, Mangatyanan).
Headlined by Iza Calzado, it also stars TJ Trinidad, Ian Veneracion, Adrienne Vergara, Audie Gemora, Shamaine Buencamino, Star Orjaliza, Stephanie Sol, and Michael de Mesa. The movie is produced by TBA, Artikulo Uno Productions, and Quantum Films.
Iza’s portrayal in this film earned her the Yakushi Pearl Award for Best Performer in the 2017 Osaka Asian Film Festival in Japan. She plays Jane Ciego, an actress who grew up in front of the camera and wants to finally be recognized for her acting and do something different. She decides to produce a film directed by Lexter Palao (Audie), who promises her this project will bring them to the renowned Cannes Film Festival.
Jane’s overbearing mother (Shamaine) is a constant presence in her life, and feels entitled to reap the rewards of her daughter’s hard work in exchange for taking care of Jane and handling her career from the beginning.
Jane is restricted inside a house with her husband (TJ) and a nurse (Adrienne) who seems to make her suffer rather than help her recuperate. When Jane’s real life and the movie’s plot begin to intertwine, Jane starts to question her own sanity and realizes it is only up to her to break through and make it out alive.
On the surface, Bliss appears to be a commentary on the working conditions in the entertainment industry. But on a deeper level, Bliss also takes a look on the myriad factors that can contribute to having strained mental health that, when left undetected and untreated, can lead to a full-blown mental illness.
While the director mentioned at the press conference that it was not his direct intention to make a film with a specific message, the Filipino moviegoing public is all the better for it as it tackles the issue of mental health beyond the usual stereotypes propagated onscreen and on television.
Here are three things about mental health that viewers can take away after watching Bliss:
1. We tend to overlook the different symptoms of having poor mental health.
In the film, Jane utters the line “Gusto ko lang matulog” several times. As an actress, she has to adhere to demanding work hours. At the time the accident on the set happened, they have been working for more than 20 hours. Sleeplessness is one of the symptoms of poor mental health.
Having trouble sleeping or staying asleep should be a cause for concern. But this doesn’t only happen to people in the showbiz industry. Who hasn’t experienced working for 24 hours straight with little to no sleep? How many workplace accidents have occurred because the employees were not operating at their 100% best?
Jane’s mother also warns her that she can’t be feeling burned out from her bread and butter, as they are still building their rest house in Tagaytay and have an upcoming vacation in Maldives to fund. As a breadwinner, Jane feels the burden to realize her mother’s dreams even at the expense of her own health and happiness.
Every working man or woman, single or married, can relate to sacrificing our physical and mental health because we need to advance in our career, earn money for our bills and mortgages, and sometimes to keep up appearances. Even at the risk of experiencing overfatigue, many of us trudge on because of financial responsibilities and the feeling that we have no choice.
In one of Jane’s dream-like days, her husband tells her that the reason for her house arrest was not due to a set accident, but because she suffered a nervous breakdown.
While there are many factors that can contribute to a nervous breakdown, in Jane’s case it was primarily the grueling schedule, the pressure to stay perfect, and accommodate fans even during her rest time. A nervous breakdown is a real consequence workaholics may face if they continue to forego filing a sick leave and take a few days off for themselves.
2. The many faces and effects of addiction and abuse.
Jane’s husband is an aspiring restauranteur who has money problems. He previously received capital to start his business, but it is revealed that he gambled it all away at a casino. Not many people are aware that gambling is a form of addiction.
So many lives have been ruined because of people who couldn’t control and refuse to treat or even acknowledge their gambling problem.
Beneath the nurse’s sinister exterior is a background that explains her connection to Jane, and a history of physical and psychological abuse she suffered as a child.
According to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health:
“Experiencing abuse or an attack can lead to serious mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.”
The movie also touches on the important issue that abuse victims can become abusers themselves. This is a notion that has been backed by data.
3. It takes a village to take care of our mental health.
In the movie, Jane is surrounded by people who seemingly adore and care for her, but also use Jane to their benefit.
Toward the film’s end, however, they are also who Jane clung on to so she could end her suffering. Despite her mother’s strict demands, she is the voice and guidance Jane craved when she felt her husband and the nurse were conniving against her. Jane clings to the voices of her husband and the director to help her overcome her real situation.
At the movie set, everyone knows they have worked beyond what their bodies and minds should, but because they have a deadline to meet and a budget to stick to, they proceed.
This is a sad reality for the working force, not just in the entertainment and media. But because a better alternative has yet to be put in place, they sacrifice and continue with these working conditions so they can put food on the table.
The nurse repeatedly taunts Jane and calls her “baliw,” a stigma that society attaches to those suffering from a mental health illness.
Worse, some people (most of the time the patient’s own relatives), dismiss it as acting up or wanting to attract attention. And when people with mental health needs voice out their feelings or show changes in their moods, it is easy for people to chalk it up to their “sickness.”
If Jane’s mother acknowledged her daughter’s need for rest, if her husband wasn’t too distracted to notice the abuse happening to Jane in the nurse’s hands, and if the director saw beyond his dream to make it to international festivals, Jane’s story would’ve had a different ending.
This is where the importance of a strong support group, and the country’s mental health policy comes in.
A person suffering from a mental health illness needs a support group that will understand and not pile on his/her suffering. Patience, acceptance, and encouragement is needed as it takes time and a herculean effort to adjust to a life with a mental health condition.
More importantly, we should all work together to live in a society that cares for everyone’s mental health. After all, a mental health illness chooses no one, nor does it discriminate against gender, social status, or beliefs.
Anyone can suffer from mental health problems.
With the passage of the Philippine Mental Health Bill and socially-relevant films like Bliss, the time is ripe for people to put premium care on their well-being and mental health.
If each of us does our part in erasing the stigma and overcoming stereotypes on the different conditions and disorders, patients and sufferers will have the courage to seek the help they need and deserve.
Bliss is showing in select cinemas nationwide with an R-18 rating (without cuts) from the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB).