If Only We Knew How to Save a Life


I wish I could say that I was a hardcore fan of Anthony Bourdain. That chef with lovely lines on his face, sinewy arms covered in tattoos, and a wild crown of silver hair. I wish I could say I had read his Kitchen Confidential and watched every episode of Parts Unknown. But sadly, I just saw some of his shows. And yet, I couldn’t understand the sadness that came over me when I heard of his death. When a colleague spread the news in our chatroom, I opened Twitter which was just starting to explode with announcements of his death. For an hour or two last Friday I found it difficult focusing on writing articles. Then I understood: we need more, and not fewer, Anthony Bourdains in this world. That’s why I was sad. He supported the #MeToo movement ferociously, hated racism, advocated fairness, and made marginalized people feel special. Yesterday, in local news, an interviewee who encountered him during a filming in Manila said something like — it was easy to connect or talk to Anthony Bourdain even if they don’t have anything in common. I admire that gift.

He loved sisig, adobo, sinigang and lechon — I mean, anyone who loves Filipino food is a friend of the Filipino people.

Thinking about Anthony Bourdain in this rainy night (it’s been raining since last week), I shall now move on to a person close to me:


Let’s call him Pablo.

The early signs that Pablo was not okay appeared at a convenience store. His mother saw him staring at bottles of Coca-Cola. She asked him to buy Coke that day, but she followed him to the store. Pablo, who’s in his late teens, had been losing sleep. He had also stopped talking to most people and doing the dishes as per usual. Instead, he would walk around the house at odd hours and browse social media all day. Sometimes he would cry. Wail. Sing at the top of his lungs. So that day when his mother told him to buy soda and followed him to the store and saw him like an empty shell, she went up to him and told him gently and sweetly, Let’s go home, Pablo.

After this, his mother and father contacted me and my sister for help.

We tried talking to him. I offered him a bar of chocolate. He refused. I wanted to joke, nobody says no to Cadbury — there really is a problem here. My sister learned a part of his story. Heartbreak. Something to do with rejection. I told my sister she should share her legendary heartbreaks so he’d know that this happens to everyone, including me. But there could be many other factors and triggers such as living in poverty or social media envy, and it’s unwise to think that mental illness is caused by only one thing.

Talks didn’t quite result in the change we expected. And sleeplessness got worse. There was also a kind of surrendering on his part. He stopped caring about what people communicate to him or how he looks or how he acts. He stopped bathing. He would walk around the neighborhood before sunrise, which is dangerous, with the current war on drugs. He could’ve been shot. Thankfully this didn’t happen.

His mother cried.

A meeting was arranged for Pablo with a professional psychiatrist. Medication followed. Because I was curious, I joined the second consultation.

The doctor is a friend of a relative. The consultation took place not in a hospital but in the relative’s house so not to create a scary situation for the young man. The doctor first asked the family about any changes. There were improvements, they said. The meds put him to sleep. That’s important. A priority, in fact. Sleep.

The doctor then asked to see the patient alone. After the session, which took about five minutes, the doctor told us he’s recovering but will need maintenance for some time. Relapse, he said, can be more dangerous than the first episode. Relapse is when the depression or the mental illness returns after an apparent recovery. This could happen, for instance, when the person suffering from depression realizes that he was diagnosed with mental illness (there are cases, we were told, when patients don’t remember the things that happened during their worst mental state). So Doc advised us to still closely monitor the in-take of medicines, assist the person take the meds. The last advice, I think was the most important: be there for him. Persons suffering from mental illness need their loved ones. It would be beneficial, we were told, if family and friends could take him out once in a while. I agreed. I read somewhere that a change of environment can totally uplift one’s mood and can do incredible wonders to one’s being.

And things worked. We planned a regular visit to him and made sure he doesn’t run out of medicine and people to talk to. He got off social media for a while and is now taking part in conversations. He also takes a bath and combs his hair, very nice. His mother also talks to a few, close family and friends about this, which I think is helpful because people watching over depressed people can be stressed too.

Finally, it may have helped that the people closest to Pablo really cared about him and would fight to the death just to save him from darkness. It’s a community effort to take down monsters. And results are wonderful as of now.

Pablo is back.


1:2. This is the ratio of female and male among the approximately 3,800 patients at the National Center for Mental Health. In other words: the number of male patients are double the number of female ones. I heard this in a recorded radio program from a few months ago, with hosts interviewing Dr. Joel Nathan Baguiwet, senior resident medical officer III of the said Center.

The government’s National Center for Mental Health is mandated to take care of the Filipino mental health. Their services include confinement, rehabilitation, psychiatric evaluation for victims of violence against women and kids, and information dissemination related to mental health. Their doctors/psychiatrists visit local communities to help them learn about mental illness and save lives.

Dr. Baguiwet said in the interview that there are different symptoms and manifestations of mental illness including lack of sleep, difficulty in performing normal activities, and anxiety. When Pablo’s mother told me that Pablo has been singing and dancing at home, I said, isn’t that normal, I do that too in my apartment, dancing and singing and sometimes crying out of fatigue; but when he stopped functioning in his daily duties, alarm bells.

Mental health illness, the doctor said, has many factors: can be hereditary, can also be environmental. He added that in the Philippines, schizophrenia is the most common mental illness, followed by depression and bipolar disorder. Compared to depression, we don’t hear much about bipolar — to simplify: bipolar persons have extreme shifts in mood, but given the right treatment, they can recover. My sister has just visited a friend diagnosed with bipolar disorder and it was good to know that she has a PWD card that can give her benefits in restaurants and other establishments.

The radio interview also focused on stress, being a main driver of depression. Dr Baguiwet said every person has a way to cope with stress. Indeed, for others, stress is easy to manage, but for some, not so. It’s important to find ways to live with stress– “live” with it because come to think of it, stress is inevitable in life–in fact, the more one ages, it seems that life gets harsher, doesn’t it? On a personal note: I am sometimes told that I’m lucky with everything that’s going on with my life, but really I get constantly stressed about a lot of things such as Philippine politics. Sometimes work, too.

But to de-stress, I try to come up with new ways: this week, it’s watching shows featuring Anthony Bourdain.

(Leaving you with a music video from The Fray. “How to Save a Life” I first heard from Grey’s Anatomy)


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