Thursday, September 8, 2011

A mother's call on World Suicide Prevention Day

Joy and hope. She wears them like the bright silk shawls that she fashions from nature’s looms. These, Jean Margaret “Jeannie” Lim Goulbourn continue to weave into the fabric of her life and those of others even after a loss that tore into her heart.
Instead of dwelling in the abyss of sorrow, Jeannie, noted fashion designer (Silk Cocoon), entrepreneur, former model and wellness advocate, decided to put meaning into her daughter’s life and death. By doing so, she hopes to help those on the verge of a similar tragedy and prevent the loss of precious lives. In 2007, she put up the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (NGF) in memory of a daughter whose death was caused by depression.
The whole day tomorrow, World Suicide Prevention Day, NGF will hold various activities. Early in the morning a “fit and fun walk,” and at 9 a.m., a lecture at the University of the Philippines. The open-air activities begin at 2 p.m. at Liwasang Aurora in the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City. There will be booths to stress the theme of “Rediscovering Oneself” as a path to healing from depression.

QC is the sponsor city this second time around, with Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte pledging to make the city a hub of mental wellness. Three government agencies –the Departments of Health, Social Welfare and Development, and Education –have pledged support for the advocacy.

Capping the day and to remember loved ones lost to suicide and depression is a solemn candlelight memorial walk around the Quezon Memorial Circle. Pangasinan Rep. Gina de Venecia will lead the participants. After she lost a daughter in a fire several Christmases ago, De Venecia put up Ina Foundation to help “orphaned” parents.

The candlelight walk will be followed by a free concert featuring several artists, among them, 8Track, Q-York and Morisette Amon.

“Bringing Depression to Light” is the goal of NGF’s advocacy. NGF advocates the treatment of depression through holistic means. Lifestyle change, good nutrition and a healthy support system help keep depression at bay.

An NGF poster shows a smiling young lady holding a dog. On the upper part where her eyes and forehead should be are the words: cum laude, accomplished pianist, fiction writer, volunteer, loves to cook, animal lover, committed to the environment, fun girlfriend, good daughter, dear sister, supportive friend, secretive, chronic depressive, committed suicide in 2005.

Jeannie, the NGF president, points out, “Depression knows no age, social class or gender. It can affect anybody. However, this mental illness is highly treatable and preventable.”

But awareness is key. Persons who suffer from depression need not feel they are alone while they cope with their mental condition.

So, tomorrow they and their circle of support (if any) should attend the gathering and discover ways of coping, find hands that reach out and meet kindred spirits who have overcome. Several schools – University of the Philippines, Miriam College, Ateneo and De la Salle – will provide free services and exhibit booths.

I am not a depressive, but I have friends who were/are and it is not easy to fathom the episodes of darkness that they go through. One friend killed herself six months ago by jumping from the 19th floor of a posh apartment building. I had dreaded the day it would happen, and one day she decided to end it all.

Another friend, a concert pianist, continues to cope in her own brave way. Several years ago she decided to come out in the open in the hope of shedding light on the condition and I was there to write her story. She will be at the gathering.

When Jeannie asked me if I could help her in her advocacy, I said yes. Last year I wrote a Sunday Inquirer Magazine article (“Weaving Meaning into Loss,” 10/30/2010) on her memories of Natasha and her reflections on the tragedy that visited her family. Jeannie and her Canadian husband Sydney have two daughters: Katrina and Natasha. Natasha died in 2002.

At the time of her death, Natasha had just finished working with an international fashion company in Hong Kong and was going into her own product line. There was a lot going for her. Her international education and travels had exposed her to enriching opportunities. She had a very supportive family. “She and her sister Katrina were very close,” Jeannie recalled. “They were like twins.”

Jeannie described Natasha as happy, gregarious and friendly. “Then I observed how her personality changed. We had her see a psychiatrist who gave her anti-depressants. She did tell us that there was something about the medication, that she felt funny and lightheaded. Her perception of reality changed. She had mood swings, she avoided crowds.” Those were warning signs. Three months later, Natasha was gone.

NGF aims “to share with the world the need for education and information on depression – what it is, what causes it, how to manage it and how to heal from it.” Depression can be treated and those afflicted must seek the correct help. Suicide, NGF stresses, should not be an option. (Visit or call 8972217.)

Jeannie’s wish list: For the DSWD to set up counseling rooms for depressives. For the DepEd to conduct seminars for teachers on how to spot depression. For the DOH to look at the “one suicide each day” statistic in the Philippines. For schools, hospitals and churches to put up informative posters on depression.

Jeannie’s thoughts constantly turn to Natasha’s passing. “My faith was shaken. This girl had a lot of dreams for the poor, the sick and the aged. How could we allow these to go to waste? But there is a reason for everything. Natasha was really on loan to us, and she had a purpose.”

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