Designer-wellness advocate Jean Lim Goulbourn is a picture of equanimity nine years after the loss of her daughter. Natasha died nine years ago at the age of 27.
“I am very content. I realize there is nothing I can do to bring back my daughter. Perhaps her mission was shortened. She knew I’d take over. In her kindness she had saved friends from substance abuse. During the wake, they told me, ‘Auntie, without Natasha I would have been a drug addict. She got me out.’ When I hear stories of what she did and the meaningful life she led, that is how she would have wanted to be remembered,” says Goulbourn.
Established in her memory, the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF) aims to promote a better understanding of depression and its devastating effects such as suicide, its symptoms, and the important fact that it can be treated or even prevented.
It recently launched “Be Happy,” an initiative that aims to help people deal with depression through easy, creative means.
To appeal to young people, the Be Happy movement includes a Give Yourself a Happy Hour feature—a specific time when one can buck the onset of negative thinking. Digital communications company K2 mounted Happy Hour on Facebook and Twitter, where people can share their thoughts through their blogs.
Aside from NGF’s information drive, the Be Happy Movement aims to inspire people to think and act positively and appreciate the present, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
When Goulbourn launched NGF in 2007, she managed to raise funds good for two years’ worth of projects such as lectures led by UK- and US-based psychiatrists.
In 2009, doctors Lourdes Carandang and Cornelio Banaag flew to Hong Kong to address OFWs. Last year, the foundation served a community of children of OFWs. Thirty-eight out of 250 were found to be suffering from depression. With funding from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, NGF also went to 27 universities and colleges, and provided a training program to ministry groups in parishes on how to guard against depression among children and teens.
“I would love to go nationwide, but we are taking baby steps,” says Goulbourn.
Psychiatrists helping the foundation are calling on people to heed the warning signs of depression. Dr. Lou Querubin says there are local terms for depression, such as sumpong, tampo, and that Filipinos have a high tolerance for such behavior. The difference between clinical and normal depression is the length of time the feeling lingers, and how it affects the person’s day-to-day functioning. By 2020, she says, depression and suicide could become the No. 2 killer in the Philippines next to cardiac ailments.
Dr. Ricardo Soler, meanwhile, says there’s no such thing as an imbalance of seratonin, a hormone that regulates one’s well-being. The antidepressants said to control the release or action of seratonin can cause serious side effects.
Querubin believes the Be Happy movement fosters a “circle of connectedness with the self and with others.”
For so long, the Goulbourns were intensely private about the circumstances of Natasha’s suicide. Those who knew her could not figure out why a beautiful young woman (she looked like Liv Tyler) with a bubbly personality and who had everything—a close-knit family, talent and a successful career—would take her own life.
Natasha had a happy family life. She adored her maternal grandparents, Joe and Amy Lim; was blessed with supportive parents, Canadian businessman Sidney Goulbourn and Jean; admired her equally beautiful and talented sister Katrina; and became a commercial model, even studying at the International School and Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
In the early 2000s, Natasha was a creative production manager for Nine West in Hong Kong. Like her mother and Jean’s aunt, Salvacion Lim Higgins, she had an eye for proportion.
For two years she worked under intense pressure. Subsequently, Natasha established her own line, Style Case, with some capital from her mother. The response to her samples was overwhelming. Natasha was set to be interviewed by British Vogue and fly to Paris in early 2003 to join an accessories fair.
However, Goulbourn noticed that her daughter was losing weight dramatically. She wanted to be as tiny as her sister, who was a size 2. Goulbourn knew it was more than vanity. She questioned if the severe work schedule made her daughter very vulnerable.
Eventually, Natasha asked her mother to manage her business so she could concentrate on designing. She was confident she could rake in $3 million worth of orders.
It could not be the loneliness of living in a foreign country. Goulbourn flew to HK fortnightly to be with her daughter. Natasha also frequently flew to Manila. As soon as she arrived, she’d rush to her grandfather and cook for him. The elder Lim’s death in 2002 had deeply affected her.
As Natasha’s size dropped to 0, she looked emaciated. Her thick lustrous hair, which once got her a shampoo commercial endorsement, started to fall. Goulbourn noticed her mood changes. Aside from the loss of appetite, she refused invitations from friends, slept around 3 to 5 a.m. and woke up before noon.
Goulbourn adds that, by then, Natasha had just broken up with a Swiss boyfriend. However, he came back to reconcile with her.
“The ups and downs in their relationship caused her tremendous pain,” she says.
Natasha went to an Australian psychiatrist in HK, who diagnosed that she had mild depression.
“The psychiatrist gave her a cocktail of medicines starting March 1,” recalls Goulbourn.
Natasha never liked medication. For her to take them was unusual. In e-mails, she revealed to friends that the medication was wreaking havoc on her nervous system.
“I saw the tremendous change in her personality. She no longer smiled. When she was sad, she wanted to lock herself up in her room. I was a psychology major, but I never bothered to understand about depression. I thought—let her have some happy pills. She’d be fine. But the pills given her made her turn for the worse. Those who take those medications tend to lose their sense of balance, logic and reasoning and memory. She took too much and mixed them all. I warned the psychiatrist, ‘Your pills are doing more harm than good. If something happens to her, I will sue you!” Still, he kept increasing the dosages.”
Goulbourn points out that in 2009, antidepressants sold in the US warned consumers that the product could cause suicidal thoughts.
“Why isn’t the Philippines doing that?”
She cites an article in Time magazine which wrote about a study that said antidepressants caused death, especially in youths from 16 to 20.
On May 23, 2002, Natasha never woke up from her sleep.
Goulbourn believes the media images of thin models inciting young women to drastically lose weight, her inadequate food intake and nutrition, the extreme stress of work and a failed relationship took a toll on Natasha’s well-being.
“Depression is like flu or diabetes. It creeps in very slowly, like a chemical imbalance,” says Goulbourn.
She points out how MSG and medicines could also affect the brain.
“Steroids used for asthma have depression as side effect, but the doctors don’t warn us enough.”
Meanwhile, philanthropist Gina Lopez introduced Goulbourn to a medium who could communicate with departed souls. In their first conversation, Natasha revealed to Goulbourn that her mother was right in advising her that her medication was harmful.
Natasha was quoted as saying, “I didn’t know what happened. Everything in the past few weeks until now has been a blur. I thought I was having a nightmare. I wanted to get back. I had no wish to die. I didn’t even know I was gone. Can you do something? Talk about medication.”
Natasha pleaded with her mother to save five lives who were also taking the same medication as hers.
“From then on, it removed my fear of the uncertainty of crossing the border. I feel confident there is a beautiful life ahead. It gave me comfort and she talked to me seven more times. She gave me many instructions, but the minutes got less,” says Goulbourn.
Through another medium, Natasha consoled her mother that she would always be with her.
“It took me four years of grief before I could get up. I functioned and looked okay but my brain was like in another dimension,” says Goulbourn.
Lack of support
Goulbourn is glad that NGF’s efforts are helping remove the stigma on depression. But she laments the lack of support.
“Companies and banks say the story is too depressing. I’ve been told straight in the face. There are 250,000 shrinks to 90 million Filipinos. Although we are a happy country, according to the World Health Organization, there were almost 10 percent reported cases of depression in 2008,” says Goulbourn.
The Natasha Goulbourn Foundation is holding a series of lectures tomorrow, May 23, at San Antonio Parish. Psychiatrist Natalie Rasgon of Stanford University and psychologist Lourdes Carandang will hold a workshop on “Depression and its Consequences” from 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon. At 1:30-4:30 p.m., the workshop will focus on “Alternative Modalities for Depression,” sponsored by Global Vital Source. Topics include Food for the Brain by nutritionist Dale Flores, Acupuncture for Depression, Stress and Sleeping by Mike Vergara and Physical Manipulation for Mental and Physical Imbalance by Dr. Maria Joceline Bilasano.
Call Margie at 0917-8725514 or 8972217 or Conne at 0917-8990242.
For details on NGF, call 8972217; or visit www.ngf-hope.org