Be there to listen: What Julia Barretto learned about mental health from ‘MMK’ portrayal

Miguel Dumaual, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 28 2019 08:11 PM | Updated as of Nov 28 2019 10:27 PM

Julia Barretto portrays a student diagnosed with bipolar disorder in an upcoming episode of ‘MMK.’ ABS-CBN

MANILA — Taking on what she described as one of her most challenging roles yet, Julia Barretto said she has newfound understanding of mental health struggles and hopes to help raise awareness about how to address them.

Barretto is starring in her first “Maalaala Mo Kaya” (MMK) episode in two years as a student diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The story is inspired by true events, as narrated by a letter sender, and will air on November 30.

Its teaser, which shows Barretto’s character being diagnosed with the condition and having strained relationships due to her manic and depressive episodes, has gone viral and has earned early praise for the actress’ portrayal.

In an online episode of “Kapamilya Chat” on Thursday, Barretto credited her personal exchange with the letter sender as instrumental in her performance.

“Sensitive ‘yung pinag-uusapan natin, so kailangan may deeper understanding and more knowledge on the condition. I met with the letter sender. Gusto ko maintindihan lalo ‘yung pain niya doon sa episode na ‘yun, ‘yung feeling niya sa pinagdaanan niya, kung ano ‘yung na sa utak niya. Para mas mabigyan ko ng justice ‘yung gagampanan ko,” she said.

Scenes shown in the teaser include the central character confronting her mother (Ara Mina), who initially dismissed the condition as “gawa-gawa” or fabricated; and feeling guilt over sharing her burden with her boyfriend (Jameson Blake).

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“Hangang-hanga ako sa kanya,” Barretto said, referring to the letter sender. “Sobrang brave niya, sini-share niya talaga ‘yung story niya. This is really to help raise awareness na may ganito talaga.”

Prior to this “MMK” project, Barretto has had previous interactions with individuals with bipolar disorder, a number of whom she is personally close with.

Playing the character, she said, gave her a more informed view of what they go through. “Hindi siya biro talaga, physically, mentally, emotionally. Sa condition na ‘to, ‘yung tatlong ‘yon, nagsa-suffer talaga, e,” she said.

The project has already had a lasting impact on Barretto, and she hopes that will be the same case for viewers who will tune in on Saturday.

Drawing from her experience filming the episode, Barretto said she would rather now be a dependable presence for anyone who has mental health struggles, when asked if she has any advice for them.

“It’s not advice. More than anything, it’s just assuring them na nandiyan ka para makinig. I think lahat naman tayo ‘pag may pinagdadaanan, ‘yung nakakatulong sa atin ‘yung may katabi tayo, ‘yung may nakikinig sa atin, ‘yung may nakakaintindi. ‘Yung kahit ano pang sabihin mo, hindi ka huhusgahan. Iyon ang importante,” she said.