Do you ever feel like jumping in front of the LRT? is not a common question among most social circles, but it certainly should be.
At least one Filipino commits suicide everyday, finds a study conducted by the Natasha Goulborn Foundation in 2011. Given our reputation of being the happiest, most optimistic people in the world, it is a little known fact that we have the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s 2012 Happiness Report. At least one-third of the Filipino population suffering from depression will never know what causes their symptoms because out of the 350 million suffering worldwide, less than half of them seek help. WHO cites the stigma associated with depression as the main factor preventing many to seek help, or to even speak up, and most lose their lives to the sickness this way.
For Filipino culture at least, talking and socializing is reserved for jokes and light, comfortable topics. It is not meant for individual realities that hamper everyday discussion. Rarely do we confide in our peers about heavy hearts, or empty days or the constant urge to grab a razor and just start cutting… because it’s awkward.
To talk about depression in a solemn manner really would ruin most social situations, but I think we must reexamine whether or not a person’s life might just be a bit more important than a cocktail party. In the bigger picture, perhaps individual human suffering is more significant than the comfort of a group who might trivialize a serious condition. Because of this, sometimes we forget how much power our words have on each other.
In reality, someone depressed finds reaching out to another person a terrifying prospect. With confession comes numerous possible ways other people can react, from the idealized acceptance to expected indifference… or worse, trivialization. It begins with simple phrases.
“Cheer up,” your friend might say. “Stop feeling so sad.”
But depression is more than mere sadness. Sadness by itself is an innate human feeling, and feeling is a necessary part of living. Depression, on the other hand, is sadness, coupled with the hopelessness of ever feeling cheerful again. It interferes with your ability to think or feel anything, from the taste of your food to appreciating your friends or your own passions.
Says someone else, “You just have to love life! It’s going to be alright.”
But will it, really? It’s like telling someone chained to an anchor at the bottom of the ocean to just swim to the surface, instead of diving down with them and unlocking the chain.
Knowing this, then why is “Snap out of it! Just suck it up!” such a common recommendation?
With this comes shame, with the world implying you can’t deal with life the way everybody else seems to do, so easily at that – therefore, you are weak. To fit in, you must feign normalcy and “snap out of it” in the seamless way that bright commercials, inspirational posters and well-meaning people who refuse to understand dictate. This statement regards depression as if it is a bruise you can treat with something out of a first aid kit and a reassuring pat.
Shame begins to take over you, and you start backing down. “But you’re a strong person!” they insist.
Somehow, you have to get over it. Nevermind the recurring moments of weakness, or the serious depression you are suffering from. Much like just “snapping out of it”, being a “strong person” is contrary to everything you perceived yourself to be. To be “strong” ironically further isolates you with feelings of inadequacy, ineptitude and weakness, doubling the burden of recovery by pushing you further into silence.
Amidst all these comes a voice of reassurance: “I am sorry you are suffering.”
Finally: empathy. This sentence acknowledges that you are undergoing a difficult time, but does not claim that the speaker completely understands or knows how to fix the problem. It’s just that they are there if you need them.
It has been said countless times before, but we really should start being compassionate towards one another. How many suicides does it take before we realize the things we say can really hurt a person? How many more before we start doing something about depression instead of dismissing or making fun of those who suffer from it?
It starts by reaching out to your friends. Suicide and depression should never be ignored, downplayed or belittled. Declaring this pain as overblown, trivial or oversensitive “sadness” that can be switched off by repression or distraction invalidates the depth of the emotion and traps people suffering from depression in their own silences. No one chooses depression, and absolutely no one deserves it.
To be entrusted with a secret as dire as a friend’s depression means that they trust you enough to mean that your compassion matters. Being the person that delivers that comfort is both a privilege and a responsibility.
For every real word confided, there is a connection between people who suffer in a similar way in a world that denies them the opportunity to acknowledge and validate that suffering. With every attempt to speak about a truth that our society deems asinine, we attempt to examine ourselves altogether. It is not a complete or instant remedy, but these victims are, at least, no longer alone in their shame, hopelessness and self-doubt.
Sometimes lives are saved not with the 30:2 compression-ventilations of CPR or the fast-acting defibrillators in emergency rooms. Sometimes they are saved with the grace of time, compassion, kindness, and good words.