Moms and Dads

How Jerika Ejercito Overcame Depression

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Jerika Ejercito, daughter of former President Joseph Estrada and a mother of 5, shared how she overcame depression and became one of the voices for Mental Health advocacy in the country.

It’s easy to dismiss Jerika Ejercito as the daughter of former President Joseph Estrada and Laarni Enriquez. On top of that, she’s the sister of Jake Ejercito, one of today’s fast-rising actors. To most people, she lived a pampered life. But unknown to many, Jerika Ejercito battled her own insecurities, including depression, which almost caused her life.

At the National Mental Health Summit at SM Aura last October 25, Jerika, who is married to Miquel Aguilar and has five children, recalled her battle with depression and how she became one of the voices of mental health awareness in the country.

A message of hope

Jerika began her talk by reciting the common denominator that binds mental health advocates. “We are all here because we all draw from our own pains, our personal struggles. We draw from parts of us that no one else can see.”

One thing she learned from her experience was that there’s “strength from vulnerability.”

“Being vulnerable fosters deep connection,” Jerika said. “And this paves the way to healing.”

Jerika Ejercito depression
Photo Source: National Mental Health Summit

Jerika Ejercito on growing up

She recalled being raised in a happy and protected family with her siblings. But around 12 years old, she lost her innocence and in her teen years, battled body issues. In 2001, the extreme bullying began after EDSA 2, where her father was unseated.

It led to her being taken abroad. It was also the time that she stopped praying because of what happened. While studying in London for the next decade, chaos broke inside of her. At that time, she was just 17.

“My self-esteem was non-existent. I had a profound sense of self-pity and only girls would understand this, the pressure to be skinny,” she said.

This resulted in her partying and she didn’t know she was going through depression already. Moreover, she knew nothing about mental health. She even suffered from an eating disorder.

After being away for so long, she finally returned to the Philippines only to suffer more hate online. By 2010, she admitted to taking her life. Her second attempt was the turning point.

“It was as if I had one fight left in me. And I promised myself that I am going to give it my all,” she shared, which led to her seeking help from a psychiatrist.

Jerika Ejercito: The path to healing and becoming an advocate

Jerika said that acknowledging the condition she had was the beginning of healing. She would dive into reading all the self-help books and psychology materials to know more about depression and mental health. “I was hungry to learn and I was hungry to understand. Why? Why did I reach that point?”

“And as I was on the path of healing, this was when I realized the lack of attention mental health was getting from the government.”

Back then, the National Center of Mental Health only had a few advocates including mothers, whose children suffered from depression and anxiety, and were only getting 5% of the budget.

“This gave me a sense of purpose. I was finally part of something bigger than myself,” Jerika said. “Having gone through it myself, it was natural for me to emphasize with those who are suffering in silence.”

The purpose led her to establish the Be Healed Foundation where the group does talks and art therapy for people with drug issues. She attended mental health seminars and later worked with Senator Risa Hontiveros to pass and finalize the first Mental Health Law in 2016.

“I have dedicated a solid eight years of my life to this cause and I personally believe I have served my purpose dutifully and with complete utter devotion. In the end, my goal was to put mental health at the forefront of our country’s priorities and the conscience of our society. And by God’s amazing grace, I see to it by the staggering number of advocates fighting for it right now,” she said.

Jerika Ejercito depression
Photo Source: National Mental Health Summit

Jerika Ejercito: It starts at home

For Jerika, good mental health can solve (if not all) problems. “Strong and stable family is the bedrock of a strong and stable society.”

“It starts at home. Everything learned and experienced in one’s home is manifested in the way a person acts and deals with others,” she said. “Imagine if mental health is part of every family’s upbringing. The kind of empathetic and sensitive generation that we will be raising?”

She urges all mothers to check on their children and give them a support system. The advocacy also led Jerika to heal her relationship with her faith by praying to God and reading the Bible. In addition, it encouraged her to dig deeper and ask three core questions on identity, significance, and where she belongs.

The glimmer of hope led her to love and the life she now lives with her five children and Miquel. “In Christ, there is hope,” she said.

Learned from Jerika Ejercito and her battle with depression? Here are more stories on mental health:

Christina Aguilera Tackles Body Image and Mental Health Issues in New Video

Why A Mom’s Mental Health Matters

7 Ways Partners Can Support Moms with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety