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Jeannie Goulbourn and Frances Lim, The Natasha Goulbourn Foundation: Hope beyond depression

MANILA, Philippines - When tragedy strikes, it is easy  and understandable  for many people to become detached or bitter as they try to cope with their situation. It takes tenacity to rise from the ashes and turn tragedy into an opportunity to become a stronger person. Jeannie Goulbourn is one woman whose personal tragedy pushed her, not to despair or to helplessness, but to determined action to help others in a similar situation.

A non-profit, non-government organization, the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF) was established in 2007 and aims to promote mind and body health, addressing the issues of depression management and treatment.

Jeannie established NGF amidst the pain of losing her daughter Natasha, who suffered from depression. “Depression is a condition that knows no social class; it could strike anyone regardless of intelligence, educational attainment and financial standing,” she realized.

While Natasha’s untimely passing greatly affected her and her family, Jeannie realized that it was not only her family that has suffered this tragedy, but many others all over the country. Thus, she sought a way to reach out to those who need the kind of support that could have saved her daughter’s life.

“As the founding president of NGF, I sometimes ponder whether I have taken on too big a task and have formed too big a dream,” says Jeannie. “Not for me but for different people to come together to form a beautiful alliance with a goal to save lives that can be saved. I pray in thanksgiving for the chance to serve our dear Lord through the foundation.”

Highlighting the urgent need for such an organization as NGF, the Philippines actually has the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia. In 2004 alone, the foundation reports, there were over 4.5 million cases of depression reported in the country. However, only a fraction of depressives will actually seek help. Because of the many misconceptions associated with depression and mental illness, many choose to suffer in silence, while still others who suffer symptoms of depression will not even know what is wrong with them because of lack of information.

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The foundation aims to remove the stigma of depression and bring help to those who suffer from this “treatable” disease.

NGF promotes information and education for people suffering from depression and those at risk of depression. The organization also gives support to their families, friends, and co-workers.

“I pray that the family and friends of those in darkness can see the light. Each one is important... because this illness is treatable. Let us walk together and never give up as the results will be awesome,” Jeannie says.

The foundation has a special effort for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families to help them cope with being apart from their family, and for their families to cope with the absence of one or both parents. In the second year of the foundation, they conducted a full day workshop in Hong Kong for OFWs there.

“Realizing the extent and seriousness of depression and unreported suicide cases among the OFWs was really an eye-opener for me to work fast with whatever we had and bring this to the attention of the DOH, DepEd and DSWD,” says Jeannie.

Photos of Jeannie and her daughters Natasha and Katrina in the living room. Jun Mendoza/STAR

Some of the observable signs of depression include feeling down; lack of appetite coupled with eating disorders and weight loss; fatigue and restlessness; intense anxiety; and withdrawal from friends, family and co-workers. Severe cases may lead to suicide.

While depression can often be treated effectively with medication and therapy, those who need it rarely seek treatment. As the foundation points out, acknowledging the need for help is the first step to both mental and physical wellness.

Through community education advocacy campaigns, NGF volunteers and and mental health care providers give lectures and seminars to raise awareness about depression in colleges and universities, public schools, church-based groups, and OFW communities. They also spread information on their advocacy online through their website and social networking sites. Counseling workshops and training seminars are provided for youth and community leaders, teachers and parents.

NGF helps individuals and families deal with issues on depression that, like many mental health disorders, carry stigma and are often difficult to acknowledge. Often, because these issues are not confronted, those suffering from depression do not get the help that they need until it is too late.

Runners join a fund-raising activity (right). Posters for some of the activites for Supre Day on Sept. 9 (below).

The role of the family is undeniably important in the treatment of and recovery from depression. Families, the foundation stresses, provide the support and supervision one needs when trying to recuperate from depression. They likewise help the patient resume normal activities as they are reintegrated into the community.

Most of all, family members may help in early detection of depression, recognizing signs and symptoms that patients may not even notice themselves. It is the family that provides the support one needs to rise from the ashes of depression.

Indeed, NGF is likewise a family effort. On the foundation’s website, Natasha’s sister Katrina narrates how their family coped with grief in the days following Natasha’s suicide.

“A couple of weeks after Natasha passed away, in the midst of our pain, our family decided to go back to the resort where we had been for our last weekend get-away with her,” Katrina writes.

As Jeannie prayed for a sign to know if Natasha was okay, “As if from nowhere, a large pod of dolphins appeared, so many were they that they could have numbered a hundred, jumping in and out of the waves, dancing and playing alongside the bangka for minutes that seemed to last forever... And so the dolphin became our logo for the foundation, embodying this hope and this healing, in bringing depression to light.”

The Goulbourn family has succeeded in turning tragedy into a crusade that will save other families, communities and individuals from going through the difficulties that they had experienced. The Natasha Goulbourn Foundation stands as a testament to the fact that there is hope beyond depression  a dolphin taking a leap of faith, a phoenix rising from the ashes.

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