By Mightor Hernandez, Director, PVP
01 February 2022
A few days ago, we all woke up to this shattering piece of news. Cheslie Kryst, former Miss USA 2019 winner passed away at the age of 30. Her tragic death by suicide really hit home for me. My initial thought was how could a young, accomplished person who seemed to have it all suddenly throw everything away and leap to her death? An entertainment show correspondent, lawyer, and MBA, Cheslie lived a glamorous life that most people could only wish to have.
COVID-19 BROKE US
For the past two years, our lives have turned topsy-turvy as we continue to battle the seemingly unending global pandemic.We have been all affected by it – lockdowns confined us at home, businesses closed shop, healthcare systems were overburdened, and a lot of jobs and lives were lost due to COVID-19.While we had experienced regional epidemics in recent history, no one could have foreseen and prepared for the massive impact this intermittently mutating virus would have on a global level.
As we focused on our health and hygiene, physical distance, and proper masking, we have likewise had to deal with the constant influx of news about the virus – dashboards of cases and deaths, poor government response, corruption over supplies, delays in vaccination rollouts, to name a few. Social media has become a breeding ground for so much vitriol, which has definitely taken a toll on our mental health. This was especially more challenging for those who have lost loved ones battling the virus and dying alone, only to be cremated immediately afterward, with no proper burial at all. Such a daunting episode can definitely crush your spirit, as there is no playbook that can help you deal with this deep pain.
Recent numbers from the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that deaths due to self-harm increased to 4,420 in 2020 from 2,810 in 2019, representing almost 60% spike. Many Filipinos have grappled with the immediate effects of the very long lockdowns, loss of work, and financial instability, which oftentimes prompted mental health conditions or aggravated existing ones. The World Health Organization also cited the devastating impact of the pandemic on mental health, which was often overlooked in health care budgets by governments.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Personally, as someone who is under medication for mental health concerns for the past four years, dealing with COVID-19 has been very challenging. My work contract was cut short. I had to shut down my interior design practice. I decided to become the primary caregiver of my mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. To make matters worse, I had relatives and friends who lost their battle to the virus; most remarkably the one time when a few of them died consecutively in a span of several weeks. I became numb to death and did not know how to process it, much less mourn about my loss.
Enveloped in this disconsolate environment, I cooped myself up and questioned whether there was still light at the end of the tunnel and whether life was still worth living. As despondence began to take over my headspace episodically, I knew that if I did not overcome this mental struggle, I could end up taking drastic and unfortunate actions. Friends and family checking in certainly helped; as did my medication. Untangling myself out of this bind has been a journey, which has seen good and better days.
In a world that thrives on passing judgement on people and the lives that they lead, acknowledging that you have or may have a mental health concern is not wrong nor is it a sign of weakness. It takes total courage to realize that you have a problem that may require professional help and if the need arises, call on others during times of despair. You are not alone. This may sound overused but it is applicable now more than ever. If ever you feel alone, there are hotlines that you may call for you to talk to someone.
One of the important lessons that I learned during the pandemic is to be take care of yourself holistically. While physical health is oftentimes our top priority, our mental health is of equal importance. Another lesson is to be more compassionate to people. Check on your family and friends – ask them how they are doing mentally and physically. Do not assume that just because they do not share about what is bothering them that everything is coming up roses in their lives. Notice also if there are any changes in their behavior. Encourage open communication lines so that you can talk freely about their concerns and provide a loving and inclusive perspective.
It is important to remember that while some individuals may appear living normal lives, they may be suffering invisibly or what is known as high-functioning mental illness, which many people do not detect. I particularly remember the time when Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade committed suicide three days apart back in June 2018. I obviously asked the same question that I mentioned at the beginning. We would never know what triggered them to hang themselves to death, but these celebrity suicides should serve as a warning to us that there are still those suffering and needing help.
The focus on mental health needs to be normalized and ingrained in our daily life. Gone are the days of silence, stigma, and self-consciousness that came with it. Many have struggled for so long and many more lives may be lost if we remained unconcerned about it. We do not need another suicide death to remind us of the urgency of this problem.
LIST OF SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINES IN THE PHILIPPINES
Department of Health Mental Health Psychosocial Support Team
Monday to Friday, 0800 to 2400
National Mental Health Crisis Hotlines
1553 Luzon-wide Landline Toll-free
0966-351-4518, 0917-899-8727 (Globe and TM)
0908-639-2672 (Smart, Sun, TNT)
Hopeline PH's 24/7 Hotlines
0917-558-4673, 0927-654-1629 (Globe, TM)
2919 (toll-free for Globe and TM)