Beyond Brushstrokes

Depression is a mental illness that is difficult to detect, recognize, accept, and treat. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors note that it happens across a wide spectrum. In some cases, it hits generations in families.

Studies show that the Philippines has the highest number of depressed people among the ASEAN nations. Suicide is among the leading causes of death among teenagers. According to the World Health Organization, more than half of the suicides that occur globally every year come from Southeast Asia.

At a recent gathering, psychologist Father Dennis Paez, S.D.B., shared insights on depression, the meaning of suicide, and our youth.

“The big malice of suicide is that it’s contagious. You are supposed to talk about it because it has to be processed, not sensationalized. It becomes contagious.”

He revealed, “Mass media tends to mythologize the person.” It is not only sad but extremely unfair to the survivors. “In every age group, across all demographics, especially among people who seem very successful, suicide has become pandemic.”

He quoted a line from Scott Peck’s book Road Less Traveled: “Life is difficult because pain is part of life.”

To say that depression is just a mental disease like any other does not explain it. Thus one is unable to find the cause and the cure.

“Medications are taken to make the previous medication work and so it goes on. Depression is despair. Despair is the absence of hope and joy. If joy’s absence is a medical phenomenon, then joy itself must be just a medical phenomenon.”

Fr. Dennis gave an example of grandparents who will take a photo that simulates the joy of holding a grandchild.

He posed a question, “Is it mental illness or inner emptiness?”

“Souls and brains work together. The physical world affects us but we are also spiritual beings.

Ignoring the spiritual roots of this affliction is like giving a person morphine for the burn without taking out his hand from the fire.

“People need more than the knowledge that other people love them.”

There are two important points. There should be no confidentiality when a person:

Wants to commit suicide;

Is being sexually harassed.

“They need meaning, a point to all this. They need a reason.

“Pain is pain. Misery is optional. Pain is a part of life. Misery is a choice. It is not part of life. Pain is not punishment. To be miserable is optional.”

Father Dennis enumerated positive coping skills:

“To find one’s inner strength. By coping, we make an impact.”

“Anyone with a ‘why’ to live could endure almost any ‘how.’”

“Purpose + Power = Vocation = Meaning”

Vocation is:

The consciousness of being able to do something better than others.

Being able to love this thing more than anything else.

The ardent and exclusive passion for something in which there is no prospect of money.

“Depression is about inner emptiness. When you discover your personal vocation, everything that happened in your past suddenly has meaning.”

Fr. Dennis showed ways to discover one’s personal vocation:

Space and silence – The free silence of space gives us purpose.

Freedom of speech is replaced by freedom of feelings that creates a generation of weaklings around which everybody walks on eggshells.

Every person must be tested. We must face crisis and difficulties. “You are making him weaker because of misplaced compassion.”

The idea of not wanting people to suffer is wrong. We have a tendency to stifle their power by over-protectiveness — by blocking insults and difficulties.

“Let them suffer. When they cry for help — I don’t want you to save me, I want you to be by my side as I save myself.”

It is difficult to stop bullying. However, we should give them (the youth) the power to stop the bullying. “The result: Inner power independent of false back ups.

Have responsibility rather than rights.

What is our responsibility? Kindness and mercy, compassion or malasakit. Result: Because their love for life is never weakened when they choose responsibility over rights.

“Have a vocation yourself. Know it, love it and serve it passionately. We have to have boundaries. I love you but I cannot love like I need you. Love of life begets love of life,” he exclaimed. Father Dennis explained the spiritual dimension that is beyond the medical, psychological and physical levels.

“Have a God — a supreme being in your life. A power greater than your own. This gives power. Result: their faith in humanity would be restored so that people are not the norm. There are good people.”

“A life without god, no matter how successful, will leave hearts unfulfilled. We are always grappling with God because that is what love does. It’s a healthy thing among people who love each other.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph were the only ones chosen to be broken. All of us were broken then chosen. That is our destiny.

“Result: when we have a vocation, we become equal to any privation because the one hunger and thirst within will be our own passion.”


Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.