“I think I’m here because I have been fairly open about my struggles with my mental health—to be specific, my depression and anxiety,” said Kiana Valenciano.
The R&B artist/mental health advocate was speaking at the “#StartANewDay: Let’s Talk About Mental Health (Insights for Millennials and Gen-Z)” webinar, with other panelists, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, psychiatrist Dr. Angela Cuadro, #MentalHealthPH cofounder Roy Dahildahil and Dr. Gia Sison, national adviser of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition and head of Makati Medical Center’s Women Wellness Center.
The INQlusive webinar, broadcast on Facebook July 2, was produced by Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inquirer Super, Scout and Inquirer.net in partnership with Globe Telecom.
Kiana, 27, opened up about her mental health journey. “My battle with depression started at a very young age. I just did not know what it was called yet. I felt alone, even when I wasn’t. A short amount of silence would somehow lead me to tears. It didn’t make sense.”
She dropped out of school at one point, she said. “Getting up, getting dressed, having to leave my home was just very overwhelming. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Then that led to a series of events where I kind of looked down on myself for having to leave school in the first place. It was just like a domino effect and it was pretty hard for me to get out of that.”
Kiana admitted that she was good at masking her struggles back then. “And if I’m being honest, I am very good at masking it now. But that’s the thing that we shouldn’t forget about mental health… there’s no on and off switch. The moment you avoid taking care of yourself, you will start to deteriorate. That goes for your physical health and your mental health.”
In the past few years, Filipinos have gotten better at talking about mental health. But that wasn’t the case in the early days of Kiana’s struggle.
“Back then this was not a topic that you could openly discuss or even understand,” she said. “When I asked for a therapist, from family members or school counselors, it was taken personally and offensively. I guess the reason I’m passionate about advocating mental health is because I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to go through it alone. It’s a very hard burden to carry on your own. These are conversations we need to continue for us to understand how we can heal.”
Kiana, whose first love is music, grew up singing and performing.
In 2017, she released—independently—her self-written singles “Circus” and “Does She Know.” Her debut EP “Grey” came out in 2018 on Tarsier Records followed by her album, “See Me,” in 2019. Her latest songs “Hide My Love,” “No Rush” and “Corners” are streaming on digital platforms. The Abdel Aziz remix of “Get Together” just dropped yesterday.
Kiana, whose voice is silky smooth, is continuing her musical evolution in Los Angeles, California, where she is based.
She was in Los Angeles, away from family, when the pandemic hit. “The ‘new normal’ has forced me to confront issues that I’ve already had. You’re home alone, you no longer have distractions. I think it’s a challenge that my generation has—just living in the present,” she said.
“As someone with anxiety, there are things I would run to to keep my mind off things I had to focus on.” But without the distraction of friends or being able to just Grab or go for a walk,” Kiana said she was able to “confront the bad habits that I have been allowing myself to continue doing and how I perpetuate toxic thinking and how much as I’ve been taking for granted.”
She added, “This whole ordeal has reminded me of the importance of human connection. On top of that, I’ve really been able to appreciate reflecting on my own mental state, meditating, focusing on the things that I can control and letting go of all that I can’t.”
Using her voice to speak up about mental health is important to Kiana. “I’ve lost loved ones to mental illness. Some may know that my brother (singer-dancer Gab Valenciano) has been very vocal as well about his struggles with his mental health. It’s not easy to look past that and not want to speak up for it and not want to stand up for those who may be going through the same thing.
“It does help to accept that no matter how many therapy sessions you go through, no matter how much advice you’re given, the bad days will come. It’s just a matter of powering through them and building yourself a support system that will carry the weight with you.”
What advice would she give to people who are afraid to ask for help?
“One thing that I constantly remind myself is to let my loved ones love me,” Kiana said. “It is very hard to take that first step to open up and let someone know how you’re feeling, but it’s much more helpful than to just keep it in and to hold those dark thoughts or uncomfortable feelings to yourself. So, yeah, I guess my advice is to really, really let your loved ones love you.”