Depression and suicide
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - June 13, 2018 - 12:00am

The death of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain within days of each other shocked many of us. It is understandable to wonder why people at the top of their game, whose future prospects seem brighter than we can dream of, would want to end it all.

Not too long ago, we were shocked when a top executive of the Lopez Group jumped off from his high rise office’s patio. He had everything to live for… a loving family, a good career, and a social status that is nothing short of enviable. He was the one executive I thought was the most relaxed, no airs… the easiest to talk to.

That’s the thing with depression. From the outside, one looks like a really jolly fellow who loves to make people laugh… like Robin Williams. No one really suspects that person is battling demons in his mind. And when it becomes noticeable, we want to believe it will go away and all is well again.

Dr. Ricky Soler was a student of my father at med school and a psychiatrist. I have had interesting conversations with him on depression.

Dr. Soler explained that depression is one gravely misunderstood disease. Our macho culture tries to suppress it rather than deal with it, so it only gets worse. Society even considers depressed people as nut cases, causing them to feel more isolated.

As for those who end up taking their lives, our Catholic upbringing makes us look at them as sinners who have violated God’s law. I think only the Jesuits see them as victims of something beyond their control, allowing wakes to be held in their churches and final rites performed.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, a writer whose husband was such a victim begged for greater understanding.

“I didn’t know either Bourdain or Spade personally, but I can promise that they, too, didn’t want to leave their young children behind. In the depths of their illness and suicide trance, they both likely thought the same thing that my husband did.

“Think about it. What parent wants to leave their child? Or to miss seeing their child grow up?

“Depression is an illness that lies to those who have it. When they reach the point of suicide, they feel worthless and hopeless. They experience a level of pain the rest of us cannot begin to fathom.

“You may view it as a choice, but most who die this way viewed it as the only way to stop the intense pain, which has been compared to feeling like surgery without anesthesia…  

“We need to stop using the phrase “committed suicide.” Spade and Bourdain died by suicide and from depression. So did Robin Williams… Suicide is also rarely a sudden decision. It’s most commonly the result of persistent voices that its victims have struggled with for years.

“Please don’t judge Bourdain, Spade, or anyone else who dies by suicide or lives with depression. And please don’t focus on how it happened or why they died this way…  

“Instead, reach out to the people in your life who could use some extra support. Spread a little extra love in the world. You never know whose life you might impact with a simple compliment or a moment of kindness…”

Dr. Soler agrees. “I have little doubt Anthony Bourdain would not have killed himself if he had just contacted a crisis call center before doing it. Or discussed his depression with a trusted relative, friend or with a mental health professional, especially a clinical psychologist, who would deal with this matter through what is more commonly known as ‘talk therapy.’

“Talking openly, candidly, and unabashedly about one’s depression often leads to understanding the reasons for one’s being depressed and helps one get back into the light.”

Dr. Soler told me about how he met Jeannie Goulborn sometime in early 2007. “We quickly warmed up, and she was able to reveal to me that her daughter Natasha had killed herself in Hong Kong. It wasn’t often that she told this to others and I could see that Jeannie was still in pain.

“I casually suggested that if she could transform this pain into something that would help other depressives from ending their lives, she would be doing our people a much-needed kindness. Jeannie beamed and asked how she could do this?

“I suggested that she organize a foundation with the advocacy of informing as many as possible and as much as possible about depression, which to my mind, was the first step, indeed, perhaps the best step to getting depressives to seek help.”

Thus, was born the Natasha Goulborn Foundation. It sought to remove the stigma that unknowing people harshly attribute to psychological and emotional issues.

When Dr. Paulyn Ubial, a good friend of Jeannie’s and the NGF, was named health secretary, one of her first acts was to organize a National Center for Mental Health, the first time the DOH recognized the importance of paying necessary attention to mental health problems.

The foundation had previously launched a crisis intervention call center, Hopeline, in 2014. With fresh help from Dr. Ubial, it started to grow into a nationwide system.

Dr. Soler worked with two psychiatrists, Dr. Cornelio Banaag and Dr. Eleanor Ronquiollo and a clinical psychologist, Dr. Honey Carandang, in preparing the training manual for crisis call responders. The team also trained the first crisis call responders.

The Taos Pusong Foundation provided the venue for the center and the salaries for responders. Globe Telecom provided the phone lines for the center. Now Filipinos suffering from depression need not go to the extreme because we now have a system where they can get help.

Hopeline, a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline, may be reached at (02) 804-4673; 0917-5584673; and 2919 for Globe and TM subscribers.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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