Actor-singer Marlo Mortel had been with Star Magic for eight years when he decided to leave the Kapamilya talent agency in 2020. Now, in an interview with ABS-CBN News, he opens up about the dark chapter that led to his decision — being crippled by anxiety and depression — and how he overcame it and regained himself and his inner peace. In his own words, here’s Mortel’s account of his mental health journey, the music it inspired, and his newfound mission.
I am very grateful to Star Magic for having me back. I left last year for personal reasons. I wanted to find myself. I went independent, releasing my own music. After a year, I found in my heart that I truly belong with Star Magic.
I had a bad season of anxiety last year. I didn’t know what to do. Lagi akong nagkakaroon ng panic attacks. My vlog, my music, natigil lahat. Everything that I was doing, I just had to stop. I couldn’t progress because of my anxiety.
It crippled me. But after a few months, I found my way back. Kaya ngayon, I am so glad that Star Magic and ABS-CBN are giving me the chance to share my talent again.
I never lost touch with Ate Gidget [dela Cuesta]. She’s been my handler for eight years, sobrang tagal na. Kahit noong nagpaalam ako to leave Star Magic, nag-uusap kami as my friend, as my ate. And recently, I also talked to Direk Lauren (Dyogi, head of Star Magic). I’m happy that he’s all ears, and he’s been advising me.
I looked for options, but my heart belongs with Star Magic. ‘Yung mga plans na pinag-usapan namin, I’m happy, because I’ll also grow as an artist.
I was so young when I first joined Star Magic, during ‘Be Careful With My Heart.’ Hindi pa ako ganoon ka-invested sa craft ko. Ang dami kong discoveries sa bagong version na ‘to, as Marlo Mortel.
It was hard at first, because I really didn’t know what anxiety was, and kung ano talaga ‘yung effects niya. I just felt like I was not myself. I studied. While I was looking for myself, I also tried to find the truth behind everything that I was feeling.
I’m currently studying neuroscience in Harvard online. It’s a certificate course. It really helped me, because I also found the scientific facts about what happens inside the mind. I’m very passionate when it comes to mental health. I’m also studying music technology at Adelaide University, and voice technology at Berkeley.
It’s the biggest growth I’ve had in my life, the past year. Totoo talaga na minsan, kailangan natin ng struggles to actually grow stronger. I’m not saying na kailangan maranasan ng lahat na maghirap, pero doon tayo nagiging wiser.
I found my way. My last two songs talk about my mental health journey. ‘Mahina’ is about my vulnerable side, my anxiety. It’s an anthem for people who are experiencing depression. Knowing that someone is going through the same thing and is overcoming it, it gives us strength.
‘Bituin’ is about finally finding your inner peace and happiness. I realized and learned that it all comes from within. Just like the stars, we may not shine bright like we used to, but we are always there. The positive side of us will always be there, and sometimes, we just need the darkness to shine.
I thought losing my mom in 2018 would be the most difficult chapter of my life. Some of you may know that she passed away because of breast cancer.
Pero ang pinakamatindi sa akin na battle is iyong kalaban ko ‘yung sarili ko, dahil sa anxiety. You’re battling with your own thoughts.
I didn’t know about anxiety before. It’s important to me na informed tayong lahat about anxiety and depression. They say it’s for the weak. May stigma dito sa Pilipinas. Whenever I talk about it with my friends and family, they don’t get it. ‘Hindi, iniisip mo lang ‘yan, mahina lang nakakaranas niyan.’
It’s not true. Even the best of the best, the strongest people mentally, nararanasan din ‘yan. It’s something that rushes through your body. Sometimes, you just can’t control it.
We should develop awareness. I want to let everyone know that anxiety and depression, even though you may not be feeling them, they’re real for most people. It’s something that is very treatable. It can be overcome.
It’s chemicals and neurons inside your brain that are sending signals. What we have to do is, first, seek medical help. If you don’t know how to help yourself and move forward from that situation, wala ring mangyayari. It really should start from you, that strength, that peace, and self-love. If you know how to love yourself, you know how to treat yourself right.
I am so blessed to have friends and family who understand. Minsan, ang kailangan lang natin iyong may mapagsasabihan. Once we let it all out and we acknowledge our thoughts, mari-realize mo that thoughts are powerless. It’s not all the time that thoughts are valid. What we have to do is to let thoughts flow like water. Kung ano lang iyong positive, that’s what we have to catch and focus on.
Look at life in its entirety. Sometimes, our emotions, our thoughts are so strong, but remember that we hold our mind. It’s an instrument that we use. And it’s not just the mind that makes us who we are.
Life is not just happiness or love. It also includes loneliness, suffering, fear, but if you know how to navigate those and gain motivation or light from them, we can also extend our light to other people.
You have to have faith. Pero hindi faith lang. You have to put in action. You have to help yourself, you have to love yourself, and appreciate everything that you have. Starting with a grateful heart, you can never go wrong.
To Marlo, I am so proud of you. I didn’t know that you could actually move past that situation stronger, wiser, and happier.
I’ve never been more secure with myself. Sobrang happy ko ngayon talaga. That happiness, it’s genuine, because it comes from here, my heart. It’s not from something external.