Inquirer Super

Talking and listening can save lives

By: Pam Pastor

“This is the first webinar that I’ve attended talking about my mom,” said actress Iza Calzado during Globe’s #StartANewDay panel in October.  

The #StartANewDay webinar series is just one part of Globe’s campaign that focuses on providing help, support, hope and safe spaces for people when they need it. Globe has been a staunch advocate of mental health since 2012. 

“It means a lot to us that we are in a position to increase the accessibility of mental health solutions. It’s our way of sharing these benefits to the Filipino people, a way for us to make an impact using our technology,” said Yoly Crisanto, Globe’s SVP for Corporate Communications and Chief Sustainability Officer. “Whether it’s you who is struggling or someone else is struggling, part of giving support is pointing them to the right direction.”

There’s Hopeline 2919, a 24/7 toll-free hotline that’s the result of a partnership between Globe and the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation, now known as NGF Mindstrong. Through its subsidiary 917 Ventures, Globe also has the 24/7 telehealth hotline KonsultaMD where licensed Filipino doctors can provide you mental health support. Globe has also partnered with UP Diliman PsycServ which offers teleconsultation and can provide psychological first aid, counselling and psychotherapy. There’s also Hope Bank, an online community that Globe created for people who need to see messages of hope and inspiration.

The #StartANewDay series was born during the pandemic, with each leg focusing on a different demographic, ones that might be needing a little more help as they faced the new normal. There have been #StartANewDay webinars for educators, for Gen-Z and millennials, and for parents and families.

Powerful discussion

Calzado was part of the webinar that discussed the family’s role in mental health. Joining her on the panel were Dr. Anna Cristina Tuazon, licensed clinical psychologist and clinical supervisor for UP Diliman PsycServ, NGF Mindstrong founder Jean Goulbourn and mental health advocate Manong Ari Verzosa. It turned out to be such a powerful discussion, thanks to the panelists’ willingness to be vulnerable and to open up about their experiences.

Goulbourn’s journey as a mental health advocate began 18 years ago when she lost her daughter Natasha to suicide. She said, “There were signs I couldn’t fathom. I had no clue, really. I did not want to talk about suicide, it wasn’t in my head at all. She was making sure her dog would get so close to me. She started giving away her clothes. At the beauty parlor, she paid in advance for my massage, manicure pedicure, haircut… She was telling my driver, ‘Alagaan mong mabuting mabuti si mama, wag mo siyang iwanan.’ She was firing my staff that were causing me a headache. I didn’t know that was her goodbye.”

She’s had time to reflect over the years. Goulbourn said, “Where did I go wrong? Can I tell you where I went wrong? Not being educated. Not knowing the symptoms. Not allowing her to talk about her plans that she was going to take her life. I couldn’t even use that word 18 years ago.. The word ‘suicide,’ I cringed at the word.”

Don’t be ashamed

Manong Ari Verzosa, a mental health advocate who is active in his daughter’s foundation Mental Health Matters by Kylie Verzosa, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder over 12 years ago. Hearing him speak was important, especially since men often find it difficult to talk about how they’re feeling and are reluctant to ask for help even when they need it. 

“We put up a mask and we’re really good at it, not knowing na may pinagdadaanan pala kami,” Verzosa said. “Pwedeng you’re smiling, you’re laughing but deep inside you’re suffering especially sa mga lalaki. Hindi tinatanggap ng lipunan yung mga lalaking umiiyak, dapat macho kami eh. And so we keep our feelings.” 

He tells men, “It’s just like any other disease. Don’t be ashamed. Seek help.”

Verzosa talked about a member of their support group who had a friend who was suicidal. “That member asked, ‘Should I tell my friend’s family?’ Yes. You’re probably the last line of help. Very often, the people the patients talk to are their friends. So parents, get to know your children’s friends and barkadahin niyo na rin mga anak niyo.”

Early intervention

Verzosa is no stranger to suicidal ideation. “I’ve been there,” he said. “The key is awareness and early intervention.”

Tuazon said it’s never too early to ask for help. “Don’t wait until it’s too late. Now is the time. A professional can actually assure you that it’s not too bad. Any urges, slow down, pause, don’t rush into a solution. If in the moment, talk to someone, distract yourself, get into K-drama, as long as you’re not acting on these scary thoughts or scary urges… Have someone guide you through the process. You need someone with more experience perhaps peer support or a professional.” 

Verzosa said these are words to watch out for: “Pagod na ako. Hindi ko na kaya.”

Tuazon said, “That’s the crucial time to redirect. When I have a client who’s going through it, my first task for myself is to get to a place where I can really understand. I don’t try to intervene right away. I try to understand so I can validate the pain they’re feeling. I tell them, ‘It makes sense that it’s become so painful and so unbearable for you that you would consider such a drastic option.’ I need to genuinely get there. I cannot just say that script. People in pain can sense disingenuity. They can sense if you’re being fake. I help them slow down so I have time to do so. Generally, they just want the pain to stop. They don’t really want to die. The pain is just so overwhelming that they don’t see a way out. That’s the thing I won’t validate, that there’s no way out, that there’s no solution. What I can do is do the hard work of helping them figure out what that way is.” 

She added, “If you’re a non-professional, really just listen and try to validate the pain and don’t validate the suicidal urge. It’s really important to listen and validate. If they’re seeking attention, why? What do they want to communicate? What are they deprived of that they’re going through this extreme to get that attention? Even if you start from that place, it’s still really important to listen and validate.”

Take it seriously every time

Calzado said, “When someone says they want to end their life, take it seriously every time. I speak from personal experience that it may come to a point where you think it won’t happen but the next thing you know, it’s done. Please. If you’re a family member trying to understand somebody going through this, just know that you have to take it seriously each and every time.”

It was in 2019 when Calzado opened up about losing her mom to suicide in 2001. Her mom had struggled with mental illness for many years, something the actress had to deal with since she was a child. “This was back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. People didn’t really have the kind of knowledge they had now, the kind of support system they have now. When I finally shared about my mom’s story last year, I just knew it was time to do that. It feels like I’m living part of my purpose here on earth. All the things that my mother experienced and I experienced and so it feels like I was put in this position to make a difference.” 

Goulbourn said, “I learned never to be judgmental after the suicide of my daughter. I learn to look at things from different angles. I request that we build bridges of love and compassion. Through #StartANewDay, I know we can build bridges of compassion and love.”

Calzado added, “If only one person today finds hope in what we have shared today, then we’ve already won. As we start a new day, I hope this conversation gives you a lot of insight, a lot of hope and a lot of light especially in the darkest of times.” 

Call Hopeline 2919 (toll-free for Globe/TM). To schedule free telepsychotherapy, text or viber UPD PsycServ at 0906-374-3466 or 0916-757-3157. Call the National Center for Mental Health at 0917-899-USAP (8727) or 0917-989-USAP (8727). Reach the Philippine Mental Health Association’s Clinical and Intervention Services Department through 0917-565-2036. For KonsultaMD, call 79880 on mobile or (02)7798-8000 on landline (toll-free for Globe/TM) for basic counseling.