You are not alone
UNDERSTANDING DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE
Farrah (not her real name) was 17 years old when she first attempted to commit suicide.
A class valedictorian in one of the towns of Leyte province, at 16, she was voted as the most likely to succeed in life when she graduated top of her class in a private high school.
She was also a student council officer who received multiple awards in different competitions and the go-to person among her peers when their academic lessons became unbearable.
She had then believed that she could hurdle challenges in the university setting, graduate with honors and land a high-paying job straight from college graduation.
But on her first semester in the big city of Cebu, in a school where there were other valedictorians and salutatorians from all over Visayas and Mindanao, Farrah felt she was just a small fish learning how to swim in turbulent, angry waters.
“Suddenly, I was not the smartest student in class. There were several people in class who knew things that I didn’t know. I was pressured to stay on top, but the truth was, I just could not keep up,” she said.
There was no one among her high school friends whom she can confide in because she felt that she should know how to deal with problems, as the most intelligent person in her batch.
She also did not have friends in college as she viewed “other college kids as my competitors who were out to destroy me.”
She did not want to tell her parents, scared that she will only disappoint them after all their hard work and sacrifice to send her to a reputable university.
Feeling worthless and helpless, Farrah resorted to confining herself in her room most of the time until one lonely night, she decided to end her life with a knife.
If not for a roommate who saw her bleeding and rushed her to the hospital, Farrah said she would have ended as another dead body reported in the news and a sore topic in discussions during family reunions.
For what felt like a long sleep after an exhausting day, Farrah woke up in a hospital room with her parents beside her.
“The first thought in my mind was regret. Did I really try to end my life? What happened to me? When I woke up, my parents were there. What I felt inside was more painful than the wound I inflicted on myself. The look in their eyes crushed me. It was not a look of disappointment, it was the look of love,” she recalled.
Right there, she poured her heart out to them and told them what she felt, confessing her struggles and her pains.
Her father, normally a stoic person, unabashedly cried in front of her and told her, “We love you. Nothing will ever change that.”
When her mother hugged and told her, “It is okay, we are here for you,” Farrah knew that she was not alone anymore.
Today, the 20-year-old college student is set to graduate next year with a degree in political science.
She plans to take her studies to a level higher and take up Law to be able to serve innocent people with little or no money to defend themselves in court.
Depression is not just sadness
Farrah’s story is a common narrative among many teenagers faced with major life changes such as moving to a new school or a different work environment.
But while the cases are common, they are also taken for granted, said Dr. Glenda Basubas, a psychiatrist with more than 20 years of experience dealing with patients of different ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Farrah suffered from depression, a condition that is not only defined by the usual bout of sadness.
“Sadness is a normal reaction to life’s struggles, setbacks and disappointments. You are still functional when you’re sad. Depression interferes with your day-to-day life activities as it comes with feelings of helplessness, worthlessness and hopelessness,” explained Basubas.
When not addressed or treated, depression can lead to suicide.
Among children and teenagers, irritability and behavioral problems are some of the symptoms of depression which can be due to loss or end of a relationship, lack of social support or a stressful life experience.
For parents whose children are rebelling against them because they are not always present at home, Basubas said it helps to be more open to them.
“Sometimes we forget that our children are teenagers who have minds of their own. Be honest to your children. Open your communication line to them. If you don’t, they will clam up and then they will become secretive,” she said.
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal that close to 800,000 people take their own lives every year. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds globally in 2015, next to road traffic accidents.
WHO noted: “Suicide does not just occur in high-income countries, but is a global phenomenon in all regions of the world. In fact, over 78% of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries in 2015.”
Basubas shared that completed suicide (which leads to death) occur five times higher in boys than in girls because of the methods used by boys or men when they choose to end their lives such as the use of firearms and by hanging.
Records from the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) showed that Cebu has the highest number of reported suicide cases in the country with more males committing suicide than females.
In a previous report shared by VSMMC psychiatric ward chief Renato Obra, males accounted for 256 suicide cases or 64. 32%, while females accounted for 142 cases or 35.68% from August 2011 to August 2015.
A helpline called Tawag Paglaum (Hopeline Desk) was launched in October 2015 to reach out to people who just need someone to talk to.
Tawag Paglaum was created through a memorandum of understanding between the Department of Health Central Visayas, VSMMC and the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation. The numbers are: 0939-937-LIFE (5433), 0939-936-LIFE (5433) and 0927-654-1629.
Basubas said solving mental health issues remains a big challenge for a country like the Philippines, which only has 500 psychiatrists. Only 18 are in Cebu.
With the formal accreditation of the Philippine Mental Health Association (PMHA) Cebu Chapter, Basubas hopes to reach more communities to help people understand the issue and provide treatment to those with depression and other related problems.
PMHA Cebu Chapter is composed of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other professionals who are all working to address mental health issues.
Basubas, who holds clinic hours at Perpetual Succour Hoapital, shared that schools need to conduct debriefing sessions among their students in the event when a suicide happens in the vicinity, such as the case of the 17-year-old girl who jumped to her death in Barangay Kalubihan, Cebu City, last month.
“Can you imagine the kind of trauma and fear that other students felt?” said Basubas.
DOH earlier urged schools to hire psychologists and psychiatrists as guidance counselors to help depressed students and those who are facing issues such as bullying.
Basubas said a suicide attempt is still the strongest risk factor for suicide, so schools and parents should take serious note of the mental health of a child.
For Farrah, who tried to end her life three years ago, it was the support of her family and friends that took her out of the dark, bottomless pit that she was in.
She now describes her suicide attempt as “wrong and unnecessary.”
“I am still hesitant to come out in the open to tell my story because of the stigma which comes with the issue of suicide. But I am happy where I am right now. I feel blessed that my parents forgave my mistakes and I feel alive knowing that failure is not permanent and there is a lot I can do to make my life better,” she said. (to be continued)
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