Scene One: Driven to Sadness
This was the first time in a long while that it was just the two of us. We would see each other but with our other friends. So there was really no time to talk, no time to catch up. We were driving along the expressway. He confessed to me something he was not able to say for months. He has clinical depression.
I turned to looked at him, shocked but confused. How else should I react?
Clinical depression is a mental disorder. Its primary indicators include persistent low mood and loss of interest in everyday activities. Scientifically speaking, this condition is a neurochemical imbalance that involves serotonin — a substance in the brain responsible for our moods. When serotonin is insufficiently produced, a person’s mood changes and may result in clinical depression.
Triggers like a death in the family or a recent heartbreak can lead to depression. But those are not the only causes. Factors like hormonal changes in the body or intake of anti-hypertensive and contraceptive medications and mind-altering substances can cause depression. Others stigmatize the condition as another form of sadness in which a person grows out of. Yet it is a different case altogether. Dr. Randy Dellosa, a frequent resource person of GMA News about psychology, explains that people usually confuse the normal emotion of sadness with clinical depression, a major mental condition.
“Normal sadness is temporary, can be intentionally set aside or shrugged off, and is not intense enough to bog down one’s life. On the other hand, clinical depression is a biologically-based and long-term mood problem characterized by distressing or even debilitating symptoms.”
Scene Two: Breaking Barriers
A toll gate barrier lowered in front of us. As we were waiting for our turn, he told me he received the official diagnosis this year but there were signs as early as 2008. “Dati inisip ko lang na “on/off days” ‘yon. Tulad ng nararanasanan ng iba.” (Before, I just considered it as “on/off days” like what other people felt.)
But it wasn’t. Routine activities like weekend hangouts with friends became less normal until it just stopped happening. At the same time, symptoms started appearing. My friend enumerated some of his experiences.
He also shut people out. Friends. Family. Everybody.
- I am really sad most of the time.
- I don’t enjoy doing the things I’ve always enjoyed doing.
- I don’t sleep well at night and am very restless.
- I am always tired. I find it hard to get out of bed.
- I don’t feel like eating much.
- I feel like eating all the time.
(I have experienced both)
- I have lots of aches and pains that don’t go away.
- I find it hard to focus and am very forgetful.
- I am mad at everybody and everything.
- I feel upset and fearful, but can’t figure out why.
- I don’t feel like talking to people.
- I feel like there isn’t much point to living, nothing good is going to happen to me.
- I don’t like myself very much. I feel bad most of the time.
Even happy people can become depressed. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 4.5 million depressed Filipinos in 2004, the highest in Southeast Asia. This may be a soft estimate. There are people who hide their depression to escape from the stigma. There are also people who are not even aware they have depression in the first place.
The WHO reports that for every three Filipinos who are suffering from clinical depression, only one seek professional help from medical experts. This can be potentially dangerous, according to Dr. Dellosa: “At its worst, the depressed person may become suicidal or lose touch with reality.”
Scene Three: Taking Its Toll
The toll gate barrier raised and our trip resumed. We were out of the city; all we can hear from the radio was static. A question was lingering in my mind but it took me a while to speak out. I reached for the off button and asked him if he has thought of ending his plight — of ending his life.
“Oo. Ang pumipigil lang sa akin ay paano kung hindi ako maging successful. Edi mas magiging malala ang buhay ko pagkatapos. Naghahanap ako ng paraan na 100% sure akong magiging successful ako. Kung anu-ano na ang iniresearch ko online pero, so far, wala pa akong nakikitang puwede para sa akin.” (Yes. The only thing that’s stopping me is my fear that if my attempt fails, it will be even worse for me. So I want a method that is 100% sure. I have done extensive research on it already, but so far, none of it is feasible for me at the moment.)
The cars dissolve into the vast emptiness of the road. The engine hums in the background. It’s the only sound we hear when I assured him: “Kung dumating ka ulit sa ganyang punto, tandaan mo na nandito lang kami.” (If it reaches that point again, remember, we are always here for you)
But somehow I felt that more needs to be done. Clinical depression, like other illnesses, is a treatable condition. A depressed person can consult a psychiatrist or psychotherapist about finding the right treatment.
Dr. Dellosa advised talk therapy as a way of helping the patient find the root of the problem. “Its purpose is to help the depressed person let go of emotional baggage that may be ‘feeding’ the depression.”
Taking the right anti-depressant at the right dosage eradicates the disorder and does not cause any side effects. Having a healthy lifestyle and diet is also encouraged. There are also alternative therapies that can improve the mood of a depressed person:
- cranio-sacral therapy
Scene Four: Rough Road Ahead
We passed by a steel bridge that leads to a rough road. He remembered an unstable time last year when he was not interacting with everybody. He stayed in his room at the top of their house, as far away from people as possible. Worried friends visited but he did not meet them. He ignored calls and brushed off people who tried reaching out.
We visited his father’s wake, earlier this year. It had been a year since we last saw each other. It had been so long since he saw any of his friends. Everything changed. His cheerful personality disappeared. His voice seemed deeper. His eyes seemed more distant.
We said our condolences. But even through that trying time, his mother managed to smile and asked why we never visit anymore. My friend interrupted with a smile and replied: “Malapit na ulit!” (Soon!)
Soon. Soon, everything will be back to the way it used to be. We will go to his house and talk nonsense for hours, like how it was in college. But things don’t really go back to the way it used to be. After his mother confronted him about his changed behavior, he started seeking professional help.
Usually, people would dismiss depressed people as emo or too sensitive. Many do not regard this as an illness similar to cancer or tuberculosis. However, Dr. Dellosa thinks social media has helped in educating the Filipinos about clinical depression. “In fact nowadays, many depressed people do online research about their symptoms, join online discussion and support groups, and make online searches for psychiatrists they can consult.”
There are now initiatives to address the growing concern of depression and suicide. One of which is Hopeline, the first ever suicide hotline in the Philippines:
However, the Philippine government still needs to step up against clinical depression. According to statistics from Dr. Dellosa, there are only 500 psychiatrists in a country of 100 million Filipinos. There are also no incentives for new doctors specializing in psychiatry. More importantly, the impoverished sector cannot afford psychiatric treatments because of expensive medications.
Clinical depression is one of the most common psychiatric disorders. It can affect anyone, regardless of social structure. Treatment and medication are needed for people diagnosed with clinical depression. It is also important to spread awareness about this condition. The more aware we are about it, the better we can help those who are battling clinical disorder — especially if they are people we care about.
Scene Five: Pit Stop
We parked near an elementary school. He would meet his friend here. As we waited for a while, he told me more about this friend and the fun stuff they did abroad. I could not help but smile. But it was at this moment when he sighed, looked into the road ahead and said:
“Pero kahit anong gawin ko, hindi ko kayang maging masaya. Minsan, hindi ko na nga matandaan kung ano ang pakiramdam na iyon.” (No matter what I do, I just can’t truly be happy. Sometimes, I think I don’t even remember what it’s like.)
If you suspect you have clinical depression or know somebody who may have that condition, treatment is the best option. Please alert this author via the comment box below. I will provide proper contact details. You may also reach Dr. Randy Dellosa through these contact details:
Address: 105 Sct. Rallos, Timog Avenue, Quezon City
Numbers: (+632) 415.65.29, (+632) 415.79.64
News break: Early November of 2014, Brittany Maynard, a brain tumor patient, decided to end her life. She took aid-in-dying medications prescribed to her months ago. In Oregon, this was allowed under the Death with Dignity Act. Some call this assisted suicide and the issue has divided several people all over the world.
A concerned netizen highlighted two important details about the situation of Ms. Maynard:
- She was teminally ill and her quality of life was deteriorating at an accelerated rate.
- She has NOT lost the will to live. Maynard even said: “For people to argue against this choice for sick people really seems evil to me. They try to mix it up with suicide and that’s really unfair, because there’s not a single part of me that wants to die. But I am dying.”
Maynard chose death with dignity; it is different with suicide. But here in the Philippines, this choice is not provided by law. Suicide is still a significant social issue here. And one of the primary reasons why Filipinos choose to end their life is depression. This is a medical condition that needs treatment.
Editor’s Note: True events inspired portions of this article. This is dedicated to two friends who are currently battling clinical depression. There will always be a silver lining.
About this Author:
Justin Joyas is a contributor for SubSelfie.com and was part of the original roster that founded the site. Presently, he is a User-Generated Content Producer for YouScoop and GMA News. He also studied Mobile Journalism at Konrad Adenauer ACFJ. He’s a newsroom ninja and protector of the realm who also wanders a lot. Literature 2008, DLSU. Read more of his articles here.