Different thresholds

10:26:00 AM

A few months ago, a university student in Manila committed suicide. When news of it broke out, there was an outpour of kind words and sympathies on social media; she was a bright young kid with so much ahead of her, and the abrupt end to her life was a tragedy. But what was equally tragic is that there were people who felt entitled to belittle her struggles. Some of them were actually my friends, and while I respect that they had the right to their own opinions, I still wanted to punch them in the face for the things they said.

What people often fail to realise is that we all have different thresholds for pain and pressure. Some can take more than others, but it’s not as always as simple as being strong or being weak. My mother was a very strong woman, and yet she attempted suicide. At that time, she was depressed and overwhelmed, and my brother and I were too little to fully understand the gravity of what she was going through. She felt alone; she didn’t have access to emotional support or professional help.

For a long time, I kept my mother’s suicide a secret. Don’t get me wrong - I love my mother dearly, and I’m not ashamed of what she did. I needed help at the time, too; I was eight and I didn’t know how to make sense of any of it. But in a conservative country like the Philippines, mental illness was taboo and talking about it was frowned upon. I knew that if I told other adults about it, she would be shamed for it and that would not help either of us recover from what happened. 

We got lucky that my mother’s attempt was foiled, and that she bounced back beautifully from it. She lived fifteen more years until cancer took her away from us forever - fifteen more years of ups and downs, of triumphs and losses, of happiness and suffering. The incident forced me to grow up at a young age, and from then on, I made it a point to be my mother’s support. 

As I grew older, I became more open to talking about her suicide. To be clear, I no longer needed to process it - I had accepted it and forgiven her for it a long time ago. But there is still a need to talk about it, if only to keep it from happening to other families. It’s not a guarantee, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt in the least to put it out there if there is a chance that it could help someone else.

The university student who died did not have the kind of support she needed to handle the pressures of her life at the time. She didn’t have people whom she felt she could talk to about it. Society as a whole needs to be more empathic, to be more understanding. In the words of my friend Alfred, we don’t need to know people personally to feel compassion - and I couldn’t agree more. 
Remind them that it's not the end.
Reach out. Offer a listening ear or a comforting hug. Or if you can’t be those things, help them find someone who can be for someone whom you think needs it. That can spell the difference between life and death.


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