Depression is real, and suicide is a subject that’s very personal to me.
In the late 1970s and then again in the early 1980s, I lost two cousins to untreated depression, which resulted in their deaths by suicide. It’s a subject that was hardly ever spoken of within the family.
Unfortunately, it continues to be so for many families today.
My heart goes out to families who have lost a family member to suicide. Growing up, we had a full awareness of what happened, but it was only when I took up graduate studies in Psychology in my 40s that I began to understand it better.
First of all, it’s very wrong to say “he/she committed suicide.” The correct statement would be, “He/she died by suicide.”
Second, the person who dies by it is not “weak.” It’s not simply a matter of “being strong.” It’s not, as some uniformed people like to say, a fatal flaw. More often than not, the person has been battling clinical depression for a while.
In some cases, there may be an undiagnosed disorder of some form that contributed to the person’s “decision” to end his or her pain.
Thus, it is so important to get the necessary help. Unfortunately, in some cases, too, even if the person is helped, it still happens. The world-renowned Christian pastor Rick Warren had a son who died by suicide. He had been receiving treatment for years, and both his parents had been praying for their son’s healing. And yet, their son still died.
Depression isn’t something we should take lightly or be ashamed of. At its very worst, it can lead to suicide. However, there are many effective treatments now. They key is to catch it, acknowledge it, and seek the help that you or your loved one needs.
I believe it is also very important for schools and universities to set in place sustainable programs that promote awareness about depression and offers help to suicidal young people.
Some universities have had several students die by suicide, and yet the situation still hasn’t merited a red flag.
Depression is so real. I’ve had several students who were being treated for it. Fortunately, they had parents who were aware of the signs, and could also afford to have their children treated.
But how about those who show no outward signs at home, or who cannot afford treatment? This is where the school or university can help.
In an ideal situation, the mechanisms set in place for depression and suicide awareness and prevention would be both sustainable and pro-active. Why only set the wheels in motion when a student dies?
Locally, outside of the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation and the Philippine Psychiatric Association, no one else really talks about depression and suicide, because it has a stigma attached to it. It isn’t an easy topic to talk about—until it happens to you, or to someone you love.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death worldwide in the 15-44 age group. Sixty percent of all suicide deaths are among young adults. Many of these are preventable.
Here are some suggestions on how to help someone who has suicidal thoughts:
Understand. Try to place yourself in the other person’s shoes. It doesn’t help to tell them to “snap out of it” or tell them how they must feel. All feelings are valid.
Listen actively. People cope in different ways, so find out what the coping mechanism is and pay close attention to danger signs.
Express genuine concern. Show and tell them that you are worried, and that you are looking out for them. If you are not trained, seek the help of a professional—a counselor, a member of the church, a professor, a health professional.
It’s not easy to be straightforward, but in situations like this, it pays to ask, “Are you having suicidal thoughts? Do you have a plan?”
PPA says that the person in this frame of mind feels invalidated or unheard, so asking them pointblank gives them permission to speak and makes them feel heard. On the contrary, not talking about it just keeps the elephant in the room, and the pressure doesn’t ease up.
Be proactive. If needed, accompany the person and seek necessary help. For minors or young adults, find a responsible adult within their circle of influence and advice them about what you know. Do not leave the person by himself or herself, alone with thoughts. Activate a 24/7 support system.
It’s also very important to look into your family’s mental health history. This is nothing to be embarrassed about. The more you know about it, the better you can address it, should it come to visit you or your loved one.
Depression is treatable, just as hypertension and diabetes are. It’s just more difficult to catch because there are no clear-cut laboratory tests for it, but there are trained professionals who can help.
If you, or anyone you love or know, is suffering from depression (or you suspect that something is amiss), please go and talk to someone. Please help them seek help.
It takes a village to save a young person or adult suffering from depression. The wider the safety net, the better. Every life matters. Please don’t take depression for granted.
For free and confidential counselling 24/7, call In Touch Community’s Crisis Line: 8937603, 0917-8001123, 0922-8938944; e-mail [email protected] .com.ph.
The Natasha Goulbourn Foundation’s 24/7 Hopelines are 8044673 and 0917-5584673.