First of all, I know Joey de Leon apologized. It was a good apology—sincere, as far as I could tell, he owned up to his mistake, and then turned the spotlight on to the real issue.
And he was right about one thing: at least we’re talking about depression. So let me add my voice into the conversation.
My life is affected profoundly by depression, though I’m not depressed myself. I’m not one of the estimated 350 million people in the world who suffer from it, but so many of the people I care about are. The statistics will tell you that five percent of the people in the world are depressed, but what the stats won’t say are how many of us there are—the people who love, support, and care for our depressed friends and family members.
My beautiful sister is clinically depressed. It kind of crept up on us. Nobody saw it coming because she was always the confident, vivacious one in our family while we were growing up. She was the one who had admirers, both for her looks and for her singing, and then, later, for her art. There were no clues for us to pick up, since she always chose happier folk songs for her repertoire. If anything, her paintings looked a little too cheerful for me.
That was until she attempted to kill herself one day. It wasn’t till we received the call to tell us that she was in the hospital after a massive overdose of pills that we found out that she’d been fighting depression for months, maybe years, and her brain had just short-circuited over that one evening. There was nothing that triggered it, not one event or person or thing that caused it.
risa hontiveros @risahontiveros
Depression is not a self-inflicted invention. It’s real, so real that it can move one to end one’s life. Don’t trivialize it. Understand it
My sister in law was diagnosed with severe depression a couple of years ago. For her, it was a series of stressors that may have push her into this condition: the illness of a beloved family member, and then a move to another country, a change of jobs; otherwise there was no reason for her to be sad—they had a lovely little family, prosperous and happy. One day she just couldn’t get up from bed anymore, couldn’t stop crying. My wife has had to fly to her sister’s bedside to watch over her—to make sure that she didn’t harm herself.
My best friend has been diagnosed with depression, too. His is a somewhat milder case, helped along by medication that he probably has to take all his life. He has what his wife calls “dark days,” when he needs to stay home from work, pinned down to the bed by nothing more than the gravity of his mood. When we come over to their house for dinner, we sometimes talk about his condition, and he tells me he’d gladly talk to anyone who needed help being convinced that medication helps. Too many people aren’t helped by the same medications that enable him to lead a largely normal life, because they don’t know about it, or because they’re afraid of the stigma.
At work, not too long ago, I signed off on sick leave for one of my best employees. She had been down with a variety of physical illnesses over the past few weeks, and when we spoke, she admitted that it was because she’s been off her mood-stabilizing medication, because things had been a little tight financially.
That’s four people in my life right now who are fighting depression, and their struggle is very real. That’s not even why I was so upset when I saw yesterday’s TV show, when Joey de Leon dismissed depression as being a figment of one’s imagination. Like countless people, I saw the clip online, when it was already making the rounds of social media. The cast of the show were doing a segment where they were visiting a contestant’s home, and the home owner—a teacher—was telling her visitors that a doctor had said that her elderly mother was depressed and “makalimutin.” Her mother was sitting on the floor, and I couldn’t tell whether she was smiling or grimacing.
Now I’ll tell you about my weekend. I visited my grandmother, as I try to do as often as I can. When I arrived, she was crying in her hospital bed; I asked her why. “Our lives have no hope,” she said, in between sobs. “I feel no hope.”
Her nurse tells me that she has moods like this often. One moment she’ll be happy and laughing, and another moment she’ll be in tears for no discernible reason. The lady on Eat Bulaga called it being “makalimutin,” but I suspect that was just her using a Filipino euphemism for Alzheimer’s. My own Lola has advanced Alzheimer’s, and like almost 30 percent of all senior citizens, she also has depression. Perhaps it’s one of the symptoms of her dementia, but she has these moods that even she can’t explain.
My mom suffered from bipolar depression all her life when she had us. I know every single detail of it and how hard she suffered from it.
So, last weekend, I held her hand as she cried, and told my Lola that I was there, and that things were not as hopeless as it seemed. And then we talked about her hometown, and the talking and the hand-holding helped her quiet down. It’s heartbreaking to know that depression has cast a gray cloud over her sunset years; even more heartbreaking to know that at the very least my Lola has access to healthcare and medicine and round-the-clock care—a luxury that is too many of our senior citizens don’t have.
(I’m thankful for all the attention on depression today, in the wake of Eat Bulaga, but I’d still like to point out that I haven’t heard anyone talk about depression in the elderly, even if the original subject of Joey de Leon’s remarks was a senior citizen. I’ll say it again: Almost a third of all senior citizens suffer from depression. That’s no joke.)
I eventually “shook it off,” as they say, but shaking it off meant that I had to go see a doctor, get help, and work exclusively at getting better for that year. It wasn’t something I could have just willed away by toughing it out. In that year, not many people knew what I was going through—my friends stuck by me, even if I didn’t tell them what exactly was going on. I regret it now, of course: I’m sure I would’ve recovered better if I’d managed to open up. But that’s what depression is. It’s a liar that tells you to drive away everything that could help you.
The point I’m trying to make is that depression isn’t something that happens to other people. Depression touches the lives of everyone, even if you’re not aware of it. There is likely somebody around you who is depressed, or is taking care of someone who is. You may be taking care of someone who is depressed yourself.
There is still a great stigma attached to depression that we haven’t shaken off, and that’s what has made the ignorant and insensitive comments like Joey de Leon’s possible in this day and age. That stigma has made the struggle harder for people fighting depression, and that stigma is killing people.
If there’s one good thing that’s come out from all this, it’s that we’re talking about depression. And if you’re one of those people who are keeping your struggle a secret, I hope this episode has at least shown you that the rest of us are here with you. You are not alone, and there will always be someone who understands your struggle.
Dear people with depression: We see you. We are glad you’ve come this far. The ignorance of some people does not invalidate your struggle.