Tag Archives: suicide

How Filipinos Can Show Support for Suicide Prevention

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All over the world today, September 10, there are events happening in support of World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD). The International Association for Suicide Prevention is having its annual campaigns for anyone from anywhere in the world to join: Cycle Around the Globe and Light a Candle.

I’ve tried searching online for any organized events in the Philippines for WSPD but found none. However, this doesn’t mean we Filipinos can’t do anything to show our support for suicide prevention. Apart from cycling and lighting a candle to show support, here are some suggestions:

1. Sign the petition for the Philippines’ first Mental Health Act

Perhaps we don’t hear much about suicide in the Philippines, with exception of some cases that made recent headlines. The 2014 global report on preventing suicide by the World Health Organization says  that the Philippines has the lowest rate of suicide among ASEAN countries.

A low statistic, however, doesn’t mean it’s negligible. In that same report, WHO estimates that the number of suicides in the Philippines in 2012 was 2,558. That’s 2,558 lives we weren’t able to save.

Whether or not we know anyone who may need psychiatric help, we can support the initiative by the Philippine Psychiatric Association to lobby for the Philippine government to provide programs for mental health.

“An initiative by the Philippine Psychiatric Association, the Mental Health Act aims to protect the rights of people with mental disorders and/or disabilities by putting in place an official body that will oversee the policies and programs that need to be developed to prevent and treat mental illnesses, and to promote the mental health of Filipinos.”

2. Educate yourself about mental illnesses, the signs of suicidal thoughts and how you can help prevent suicide.

There are many free online resources to help people understand mental illnesses such as depression. I found this video about depression by the World Health Organization to be very simple, straightforward and enlightening.

The website SuicideIsPreventable.org tells us how to 1) know the signs, 2) find the words, and 3) reach out.

In the Philippines, the Natasha Gouldbourn Foundation aims to promote understanding of depression as an illness and how it can lead to suicide. They have various programs and resources to educate and empower communities about depression and suicide prevention.

3. Show your support online through words and images of kindness and encouragement.

Filipinos are very fond of social media. We can use this in a positive way by making it a channel for expressing our support and reaching out. We can post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and where else we frequent. Our positive words and images may get someone, friend or stranger, to speak out and seek help.

WordKind logoSome self-promotion here. I started a webpage called WordKind. It’s a Facebook Page that aims to collect words of kindness and encouragement for those who are dealing with depression, bullying, isolation and hopelessness. It aims to show our care and concern for them, to remind them that they are valued and that they can be helped.

Please visit WordKind (WordKindNotes) and post your notes, handwritten and photographed or written directly on the page, to show your support for suicide prevention.

 

World Suicide Prevention Day may only be one day, and Suicide Prevention Month is only one month, but we can show our support year-round by being there to listen when someone we know may be suffering, by watching out for signs of mental illness or suicidal thoughts, and by being open-minded about talks of mental health, mental illness and suicide prevention.

 

 

 

 

Not So Much Your Death, But More So Your Life

Not So Much Your Death, But More So Your Life
(An apology to a friend in Heaven)

 

I hug my son, tuck him into bed and kiss his forehead.
I wish him sweet dreams.
Then I think of how you can’t hug your son and tuck him into bed anymore.
How he sees you in his dreams and in his tears.
And I hold back my tears and my heartache.
And I wish that, instead, I would remember the hugs, the kisses and the dreams you had given.

I sort photos of my teenage daughter’s last birthday celebration.
I am in awe of how time has flown and how much she has grown.
Then I think of how you can’t celebrate your daughter’s birthdays anymore.
How she blows out her candles and blows away her sorrows.
And I hold back my tears and my heartache.
And I wish that, instead, I would remember the birthdays when you were there.

I shop for brush pens, card stock and such art supplies.
I want to learn hand lettering; I want to draw the beauty of words.
Then I think of how you won’t be making any more art.
How the walls of your home might be less colorful.
And I hold back my tears and my heartache.
And I wish that, instead, I would remember the lovely paintings and crafts you had made.

I stay in touch with our friends from all over.
We say hello; we share photos and stories; we reminisce.
Then we realize that you are not with us anymore.
How our friend is gone too painfully, gone too soon.
And we hold back our tears and our heartache.
And we wish that, instead, we would remember when you were with us.
When you welcomed us warmly into your home.
When you were always ready with smiles and kindness.
When you spoke softly yet with such conviction.
When times were good.
When the world was brighter.

Forgive me, my friend, for feeling more of my tears and my heartache.
Forgive me for thinking and thinking about your death.
When, instead, I should be remembering your joys and your gifts.
I should be thinking and thinking about your beautiful life.

summertime sadness

 

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World Suicide Prevention Day and Saving Lives

Candle2WSPDThis year’s World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) is coming to a close. I have cycled in support of Cycle Around the World, in solidarity with many others who are showing support for the cause of suicide prevention. I have my candles lit, in memory of a dear friend and of a relative who died of suicide. Keeping busy today has somehow kept me from grieving personally, allowing me to save it for a quieter day.

This day is about being connected with one another in our grief and loss. It is a day to reach out to victims and survivors of suicide, so we can remind one another that we are not alone and that we can get through this.

It is about finding ways to stay connected with those who are struggling with depression, addiction or other illnesses. Today, we remember to really listen and pay attention to the people around us. We are called to educate ourselves on the warning signs of suicide and what we can do to help prevent suicide.

I rediscovered this song today, “How to Save a Life” by The Fray. For me, this day is about saving lives. We save ourselves from drowning in sorrow or guilt by opening up to and supporting one another. By educating ourselves about suicide prevention, we may end up saving a life from suicide.

Mourning the Loss of a Stranger

sadness and lonelynessI didn’t know Lorraine personally. I only knew of her through Facebook.  She was a very close friend of my cousins in California. When my cousins recently posted about a fundraiser for her, I learned a little bit about her story. She was a young woman who had gotten married in March this year. Just months after, she was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer. Using GiveForward.com, Lorraine’s family raised funds for her treatment and asked for support and prayers for the newlyweds.

Although I didn’t know her, I was quietly rooting for Lorraine. I wanted her and her husband to have a million ways to enjoy being young and happily married, and eventually being old and still happily married. I hoped and prayed that she would beat cancer and get back to her life with fierce determination and beautiful flair. I didn’t know her, but I would guess from all the kind words and lovely photos I saw that Lorraine was a woman with a big heart, a woman beloved and cherished by many.

Today, my heart broke a little when I saw the news of her passing. Just like how my heart broke a little when I heard the news of Robin Williams’ passing. I don’t know Lorraine beyond what her friends recently posted on social media, just like I don’t know Robin Williams beyond his works as an actor and comedian. But I do know that losing a loved one so suddenly, whether to cancer, to suicide or to something else, is painful beyond words.

Circumstances may be different and distances may be far and wide, but grieving the loss of loved ones brings people together in solidarity. We are heartbroken by the loss, but we also cherish the wonderful memories and we celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us. And we allow ourselves to grieve together, for family, for friends and for strangers.

 

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Inspire Monday: We Will Cycle Around the Globe

P2790020After almost two years, today I was on my bike again. I took it out of storage, inflated the tires, and wiped away most of the dust. It was time to test my bike and my legs, to see how many kilometers I can add to the Cycle Around the Globe initiative on September 10.

I am joining this cycling event that is part of the World Suicide Prevention Day campaign on September 10 because I want to help spread awareness for suicide prevention. I am moved on a very personal level because September 10 is also the death anniversary of a dear friend of mine who committed suicide.

Today, nine days before the Cycle Around the Globe event, I am also inspired by friends and strangers who also plan to cycle for suicide prevention. Perhaps some of them are avid cyclists, with sleek marathon bikes and pledges of tens of kilometers or miles to cycle. Some are probably recreational cyclists who take their easy riders around the park a few times a week.  Others might be more like me, taking out their long-forgotten bikes and slowly pushing their bodies, their legs again after what feels like ages.

I was able to cycle only 2.5 kilometers today. But I will keep cycling, keep practicing a little bit more in the coming days. And on September 10, whatever distance I am ultimately able to cycle, I am doing it in solidarity with these friends and strangers with whom I share the same cause, the same passion for advocating suicide awareness and prevention.

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Cycling and Candle Lighting for World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10)

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It’s fifteen days till September 10, fifteen days till World Suicide Prevention Day, fifteen days till the first death anniversary of my friend who was lost to suicide.

“In 2014, the theme of World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Suicide Prevention: One World Connected.’ The theme reflects the fact that connections are important at several levels if we are to combat suicide.

Connectedness is crucial to individuals who may be vulnerable to suicide. Studies have shown that social isolation can increase the risk of suicide and, conversely, that having strong human bonds can be protective against it. Reaching out to those who have become disconnected from others and offering them support and friendship may be a life-saving act.”

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) is calling for volunteers to support World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) 2014 by doing these things to show the importance of connectedness and to promote the message of suicide prevention:

1. Cycle Around the World. WSPD aims to collectively cycle the circumference of the globe, which is 40,075 kilometers or 24,900 miles and to have people cycling on every continent.

2. Light a Candle. At 8pm on September 10, light a candle near a window in support of  suicide prevention and awareness, survivors of suicide and for the memory of loved lost ones.

3. Be open to talking and learning about depression and suicide prevention. Promote it on your social networks. Know the signs and the ways you can reach out. Organize your family and friends to cycle, light candles and show support for suicide awareness and prevention.  Donate to IASP or your preferred support group.

I have fifteen days to get my slightly rusted bicycle ready and to get myself in shape to cycle again after almost two cycling-free years (ouch!). I do have my candle ready. And I am getting ready to post this all over my social networks and to invite friends to join me in supporting World Suicide Prevention Day.

How about you?

 

Why Robin Williams’s Depression and Suicide Matter

robin williamsYesterday, the world was shocked to learn that the great and lovable actor and comedian Robin Williams passed away.

What was personally shocking and heartbreaking for me was that, as of now, preliminary investigations indicate that he died of suicide by asphyxia. That he had hanged himself. And through the many, many articles and tributes online, I learned that he was battling severe depression for many years.

Suddenly, the dots connected. Behind the joy and laughter he exuded and elicited, that personal darkness of depression was there. Despite getting professional help, despite having loving family and friends around him, Robin Williams wasn’t able to keep up the fight.

Indeed, depression doesn’t discriminate. Contrary to popular belief and glamorized notions, depression is not only for the loner, the poor, the unsuccessful. It is not about being sad after a heartbreak, a material or financial loss, or a dream unfulfilled. It is a mental illness that, if kept in the dark and untreated, can be overwhelmingly out of control.

Thousands, perhaps more, people all over the world are mourning the loss of Robin Williams. We are all paying tribute to his legacy by remembering his best works, our favorite lines, our childhood memories of how he made us laugh. But there is another way to honor Robin Williams. We can talk about depression and suicide. We can make more of an effort to understand that depression is, more often than not, hidden from plain sight. We can refrain from judging the collateral damage of suicide, because each person’s journey into depression and/or suicide is different. We can try to be kinder to one another. We can shout out to the world or gently whisper to our friend that throughout the long and dark tunnel, with help all along the way, there is that light. There is that hope.

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Her Hidden Depression

Sad WomanA year ago today, my children and I were on vacation in Singapore. A year ago today, we had spent the whole day in a dear friend’s house. As luck would have it, although our families had both moved out of Singapore the year before, both of our families were also back in Singapore on vacation at the same time. Perfect opportunity for a reunion.

My friend had just had a baby girl, her third child, a few months before. I met her little angel for the first time and carried her in my arms. My friend said her baby wasn’t colicky, wasn’t difficult. She said that, after having repatriated, her family was enjoying being closer to family again. The only hard part was that her husband was still working in Singapore, and would just go home to visit them as often as he could, perhaps once every month or two.  They weren’t sure how long that arrangement would last, but they were doing their best to make it work.

It was a lovely day. Mommies chatting away, teenage daughters hanging out, young sons running around and playing with toys. We were a bit sad to say goodbye at the end, but were hopeful of seeing each other again.  Maybe a day at the park next time, next year.

That day, a year ago, my friend was her usual self – calm, generous and happy. She looked and sounded like her usual self that I had come to know in the last two years. Which is why I was in complete shock and denial when I heard just two months later that she had committed suicide because of severe postpartum depression. Was she already experiencing it when I saw her that day? Were there signs that I had missed? If it had started only after we saw each other, how can this illness go bad so quickly that in less than two months, she was gone?

I learned the painful way that depression is a very frightening thing. It can hide; it can deceive. I still ask myself if I had missed anything, if anyone else could have seen it coming.

Today, I remember how my friend was a year ago, how our day was a year ago. It was a good day, a happy day. And I still don’t understand how it all went horribly wrong afterwards.

 

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Inspire Monday: Kevin Briggs on Suicide Prevention

Through TED Talks, I’ve learned about of Kevin Briggs, a recently retired California Highway Patrol Sergeant and, in my humble opinion, a hero and an inspiration in the work of suicide prevention.

I cannot imagine how I would try to talk someone out of suicide. I would be so afraid of saying the wrong things, so afraid to fail and come face to face with suicide. Kevin Briggs has talked more than two hundred people out of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. And now that he has retired, he is still fighting the good fight.

In his TED Talk, Kevin Briggs talked about some of the people he spoke to on the Golden Gate Bridge. He spoke of Kevin Berthia, with whom he spoke on the bridge for an hour and a half. Thankfully, Kevin decided to come back over the rail of the bridge. Kevin Briggs also told the tragic story of Jason Garber. After talking to Kevin Briggs and other patrol officers about his hopelessness, Jason went off the bridge and was gone.

What was perhaps most helpful in Kevin Briggs’s TED Talk was his simple but powerful advice on how to talk to someone who is suicidal. “It’s not just the talking that you do, it’s the listening. Listen to understand. Don’t argue or blame or tell the person you know how they feel. By just being there, you may be the turning point that they need. Also, if you think someone is suicidal, don’t be afraid to confront them. One way of asking them the question is like this: ‘Others in similar circumstances have contemplated ending their life. Have you had those thoughts?’ Other signs to look for are hopelessness, helplessness, recent social withdrawal, and loss of interest in life.”

This TED Talk was entitled The Bridge Between Suicide and Life. If we are ever faced with that situation, Kevin Briggs encourages us to become that bridge. Hopefully, by simply listening to understand, we can be the bridge that helps a friend cross from suicide to life.

(This post is dedicated to a friend who was lost to suicide in 2013. Yesterday was her birthday. She is sorely missed.)

 

 

 

Surviving a Husband’s Suicide

the saddest girl in the world -- if you taste cold water, know that it is a message   : eye series, scott richard, painting

Joana and Emmanuel were young and in love.   Barely out of their teens, they had their first child.  Soon after, they got married and eventually had another child.  They had their fair share of struggles, like many young married couples do.

After being together for 6 years, Emmanuel moved overseas for work in 2001. Their marriage became estranged, but Emmanuel continued to support his children.   He kept in touch through phone calls and visits during special occasions. The last time he came home to the Philippines was in 2006.

One Sunday in February 2010, Emmanuel missed his usual phone call to the kids.  Joana sent several text messages and tried calling his number but no one answered.  She felt that something was seriously wrong and tried to convince her estranged husband’s siblings to try and contact him.  They dismissed her concern, saying that he was probably just busy and that he would soon get in touch.

Three days later, Joana received the tragic news from her in-laws.  While in his house overseas, Emmanuel had neatly arranged his belongings, laid out his insurance papers and bank statements, and then committed suicide.

ANGER AND BETRAYAL

Joana’s first reaction was anger.  “I was shouting at them. I was so angry with my in-laws for not believing me when I insisted that they contact him. I was so frustrated that no one listened to me.  I thought that if someone did, things would have turned out differently.”

Joana was also angry with her husband for doing what he did.  “It was selfish of him to not let me, our children, or anyone else say goodbye.  It was selfish of him to not let anyone have closure.”

She also felt so hurt and betrayed.  After the suicide, her suspicion of another woman being in her husband’s life was confirmed.  She also learned that some months before, he was already battling addiction and depression.  He was on medication; he was seeing a therapist; he had made previous attempts to commit suicide.  Though they had stayed civil and kept communication open for the sake of the kids, Emmanuel had kept most of his life secret.

COPING WITH LOSS AND GUILT

After she calmed down, the implications of what had happened started to set in. “What now?  What about the children?  How will we cope financially?  He was always the main breadwinner, and I didn’t even have a full-time job.”

During the wake, she couldn’t show her own grief and confusion. Despite suddenly becoming a young widow, she had to be strong for her children and her in-laws who were feeling lost and hurt. “Suddenly, all of my husband’s relatives and old friends came pouring in.  All shocked and saddened.  I couldn’t even get my wish for some private time with him for our children and myself.  Everyone wanted to be there right away, to say goodbye, to try to make sense of what had happened.”

After the burial, Joana and her family slowly went back to their daily lives. Her children went back to school.  She took a job.  Her in-laws went back to their families and routines.  With this new normal, grief, guilt and regret were almost constantly in the background.

Joana would ask herself, “Maybe if I had been warmer, more accepting when he told me two months before the suicide that he was tired and that he wanted to come home.  Back then, we had been estranged for so long and I had finally moved on.  I wasn’t ready to just let him come back and everything would be just like before.”

“Although it didn’t quite feel like I had lost a husband because we were already estranged years before, I knew that I had lost a partner in parenting.  Despite the distance, he provided for our children and he tried to be present in their lives.  My children lost their father and we can never bring him back.”

FORGIVENESS AND MOVING ON

mother . . . kids . . . and a bag . . .

After a few years had passed, Joana is now more comfortable talking about her husband’s suicide.  She has forgiven herself and is moving on, with the constant love and support of her children, family and friends. She wishes that talking about depression and suicide wasn’t taboo in the Philippines, so people suffering from depression can get help more easily before it’s too late.

She can’t say that she has accepted what has happened.  There are still unanswered questions that will stay that way.  “I still ask, ‘What if? But I know that no one can answer that.”

During unguarded moments, while walking alone in the mall or just before going to bed, Joana would suddenly remember her estranged husband. She knows that even though he is no longer physically around, he is still watching out for her and their children.