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Saving souls Part 2

Oscar award winner Robin Williams. Author Ernest Hemingway. Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain. Journalist Hunter S. Thompson. “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius. NFL player Junior Seau. British actress Lucy Gordon. Professional wrestler Chris Benoit. Poet Sylvia Plath. Writer Virginia Woolf. Painter Vincent Van Gogh. Quite a list of celebrities throughout history. They all had one thing in common.  

Each one of them committed suicide.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, over 41,000 Americans committed suicide in the US in 2013. That makes it the tenth leading cause of death in that country. The diversity in the demographic of suicide victims shows that depression can afflict anyone at any point in their lives. Williams was at the height of his career when he hanged himself.

According to renowned fashion designer Jeannie Goulbourn, there are three areas wherein we can alleviate or eliminate one’s predisposition towards depression.

“The first is nutrition,” elaborates the founder of the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF). “The next is sports, exercise. And the third has to do with calming the brain: meditation and all that. It sounds simple, but the discipline, that is what is challenging. Like, I tend to give up my routine when there’s a pressing project. But I realized that I must look at my discipline with my lifestyle, as an appointment, a multi-million peso contract with myself.”

With initial funding from foreign institutions such as Stanford University Hospital, NGF has gathered the like-minded and open alike to talk about how to prevent depression and suicidal tendencies, particularly among the youth. In outwardly conservative societies like the Philippines, it’s easier to talk about other scandalous matters than depression, which many falsely believe can just be cured by popping pills. Suicide is even more taboo.

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The traveling mental health advocates have even addressed the mental and emotional concerns of 850 OFWs in Hong Kong. It appears that Philippine embassies, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and even the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), have very little data on the state of mind of our loved ones working abroad. Imagine facing the stresses as working in a high-pressure job at home, but without a support system of loved ones to give you encouragement and love.

“That’s when I realized there are different sectors that need help,” Goulbourn admits. “We have the police, we have the OFW workers. We have the unsung heroes, the soldiers who are in hospitals, probably disabled, with post-traumatic stress. Then we have the victims of natural calamities. So there’s a lot.”

NGF is bringing a team of doctors and speakers to Legazpi, Albay this week, and Cebu next week. There has been a shift in how people have been receiving the message on mental health. More and more are interested to find out about how to deal with what ails them internally, and how to deal with it and harness that energy to better themselves. NGF has also been hitting its target of 10 universities a year, no easy feat. There are still emerging challenges, such as the vast number of BPO employees whose upside-down, nocturnal world is wreaking havoc on their psychology.

One major stumbling block is that the Department of Health’s budget is divided mainly between contagious and non-contagious illnesses. Mental health is lumped in with the latter when, frankly, it is complex enough to be a third category. The pending Mental Health Act, now being backed by celebrities and legislators in ads shown in movie theaters, will hopefully address that infrastructure issue. Thankfully, more and more institutions and individuals are rallying to support this treacherous illness.

Every 40 seconds, someone commits suicide somewhere in the world. How long did it take you to read this?

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