Considered one of the sexiest and most beautiful women in Philippine entertainment since she first appeared in 1984’s May Lamok sa Loob ng Kulambo with Eddie Garcia and Gloria Diaz, actress Lyka Ugarte was once on top of the world, or so it seemed.
But a losing battle with clinical depression coupled with one tough break after another has devastated the former beauty queen’s professional and personal life. As reported by Pep.ph, on October 12, fueled by a cocktail of financial woes, a painful breakup, and recent experience with sexual harassment, Ugarte attempted suicide—for the fourth time. While she declined to share other details, Ugarte’s daughter Kimberly shared that her mother’s three botched suicides prior to the latest episode were triggered by family conflict and failed relationships.
SELFISH OR OVERWHELMED?
In a live interview with Raymond Gutierrez on Showbiz Central just a week after her most recent attempt, Ugarte shared that she was out of work, out of love, and—owing to the havoc wreaked by typhoon Ondoy—very much out of funds. This, she said, along with the mental downward spiral she has experienced since 2007, led to the familiar idea of taking her own life. She simply lost the drive to live and to fight the depression: “All my life, I've been fighting. Since I was 15 years old, I've been taking care of the family already. At the age of 20, I was a single mom. So, from 15 years old up to the age of 40, it's all fight, fight, fight, fight.”
While she apologized to her children for her “selfish attitude,” the single mother of four admitted that her repetitive, destructive behaviour was founded not only on the difficulty of her current circumstances but centrally on the overwhelming force of her psychiatric illness. Because of her depression, she is not ready to swear off suicide or promise never to consider it in the future. “I did it again...so, I’m not learning, I guess. The depression is just too much that I could say I’m not learning,” she said.
SUICIDE: STATS and SPECS
Sadly, the same story is found all over the globe. Highly industrialized and economically advanced nations such as Finland, France, and Japan hold high suicide rates, with more and more of their citizens experiencing mental diseases such as manic depression and bipolar disorder. In the US, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) confirms that men are more successful in taking their own lives, but women attempt to do so more often.
Additionally, Depression.com notes that men who suffer from depression are four times more likely than women to commit suicide, but the possibility that a woman will develop depressive tendencies is almost twice that of a man. This means we hold double the chance of undergoing the despair, anxiety, and sense of suffocation that victims of the disease find inescapable.
DEPRESSION: A WOMAN’S DISEASE?
What exactly is depression? The World Health Organization defines it as “a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.” Depression affects approximately 121 million people worldwide, many of whom contribute to the 850,000 lives lost to suicide every year.
As in Ugarte’s case, depression often results from a combination of unfortunate circumstances, rather than a single pivotal incident. Family history and genetics often play a dominant role in “contracting” the disease. External factors such as trauma and stress contribute significantly to emotional withdrawal, while internal factors such as pessimistic or melancholic personalities act as breeding grounds for low self-esteem. Other existing medical conditions , psychological or not, can also weaken a person’s resolve to live and worsen depressive tendencies.
Women in particular have a hard time dealing with depression because of that ever-present excuse for mood swings—hormones. Depression has been nicknamed—however mistakenly—a “woman’s disease,” because of its close connection to puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. However, it seems that largely socio-cultural complications rather than biological ones are what make the disease so prevalent among the female sex. Successful women juggling high-powered careers with active family time feel the strain of maintaining the perfect work-life balance. When their plans fall through, the disappointment can easily turn into a major depressive disorder. Compound this with money trouble (women still generally earn less than men), marital status (depression finds easy victims in single parents), and sexual or physical abuse, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Celebrated women like chemist Marie Curie, writer Virginia Woolf, and movie star Marilyn Monroe all suffered from depression, despite their success—and some of them didn’t make it out alive.
COULD YOU BE DEPRESSED?
Many people do not realize their own mental condition until it is too late. Don’t be one of them. Here are a few key points to consider when faced with possible depression.
1. Your body isn’t functioning. Have you been experiencing exhaustion, fatigue, and low energy levels for weeks in a row? Do you find it difficult to fall asleep at night, no matter how tired you are? Is there a decline in your appetite and libido, or even both? Oftentimes, depression manifests itself in such physical signals—if these remain consistent over a prolonged period of time, there is definitely cause for concern.
2. Your behavior is anti-social and unnatural. Depression can also be identified through uncharacteristic behavioral patterns. For instance, when you were once the life of the party, you are now withdrawn from family, friends, and personal interests. You take no pleasure in your job or in activities you used to look forward to. Perpetually restless, you can’t get any work done. You prefer isolation to any sort of dialogue. Significantly, you find yourself sighing, moaning, or crying for no reason at all. This last symptom alone is a dead ringer for clinical depression.
3. You are at an emotional low. Speaking of crying—your moods are dominated by an overwhelming, inexplicable sadness which frequently reduces you to tears. Your feelings are a-jumble: you go through misery, unease, irritability, helplessness, disappointment, and apathy all at once. You enjoy nothing. In other words, you have the blues. Many people brush aside such emotional lows as normal, because everyone gets a little sad sometimes. But when it gets to the point that you feel you are being crushed—as victims of depression describe their condition—it might be time to get some help.
4. You can’t think straight. Cerebral disruption is definitely a sign of a depressive disorder. Have you been unable to make decisions or concentrate at the task at hand? Are you fixated on your problems instead of determining possible solutions? Does nothing else interest you but the failures you have made in the past? Don’t discount thoughts of pessimism as harmless and fleeting. Depression is a mental illness, after all—it starts in your head.
5. You are extremely self-critical and potentially self-destructive. At its worst, depression will cause its victims to turn on themselves. You might attack your own appearance and personality; even loathe yourself for being the way you are. This is when ideas of self-mutilation, and inevitably, suicide, come into play. The disorder cripples you physically, emotionally, and rationally, so that it seems the only measures to take in your defense are the most desperate ones.
Here's a more detailed checklist on the symptoms of depression.
IF YOU THINK YOU'RE DEPRESSED…
If you think you might be clinically depressed, the worst thing you can do is keep it to yourself. Victims of the disease are unfit to handle its effects on their own—they must get help, in order to get healthy. Here are some important things to consider when you find yourself depressed.
1. See a doctor. In the Philippines, there is undue stigma against people who seek psychiatric aid—ignore it. There is nothing shameful about going to a professional to ease your mind’s suffering. Appropriate diagnosis and treatment are top priority in depressive disorders; they cannot be put aside just because you feel embarrassed. Visit your local hospital or ask for referrals from trusted people to find the doctor who is right for you.
2. Take your meds. When you are prescribed medication, take it—in the exact dosage. If you don’t take your meds, your depression will persist; if you take too much, you risk addiction and possible overdose. If you feel you are unable to monitor yourself effectively, ask a close friend or family member to be your “pill police.” This person can supervise your intake while holding you accountable for your own progress.
3. Reach out to loved ones. Love is a great healer, even in the case of mental illness. Don’t isolate yourself from the people who care about you—instead, ask for their help. Your family and friends are the best emotional support you will get in a depressive slump. They will understand, protect, and sustain you, no matter how bad it gets.
4. Join a support group. The most productive way to confront depression is to find people who have shared your experience with it. Have your doctor recommend a support group and start attending regular sessions. Being around other depressed individuals is not the total downer it seems; in fact, sharing mutual thoughts and feelings about the disease has proven to be very cathartic. If you think about it, you are all in the same boat. It can be comforting to know you aren’t alone.
5. Drop your vices. It is highly inadvisable to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when you are depressed. Drugs and alcohol cause changes in your brain chemistry which lead to uncharacteristic, irrational behavior. Elevate that to the reckless, hopeless mindset of a depressed person, and you’ve got the root cause behind innumerable fatal accidents. Don’t be a victim of your own hand. Quit the bad stuff while you still can.
6. Stop blaming yourself. Depression is an illness, not a punishment. Despite what you believe, this is not your fault. Telling yourself the opposite will only make the situation worse. Stop the blame game and start the healing.
At the end of the day, your ability to recover from depression depends on your willingness to let go of it. Why cling to something which does you nothing but harm? Remember, depression is a treatable disease. It will be painful, heartbreaking, and many times, deadly—but you CAN get better. Loss of life is only possible, never inevitable, as long as you have hope.
If You Are Thinking About Suicide, Read This First
Five Scientific Reasons Not to Commit Suicide
Recognizing the Signs of Depression
Depression, Disease Management
Helping a Depressed Friend
Helping the Depressed Person Get Treatment
How to Help a Suicidal Person
Lyka Ugarte has recovered from her suicide attempt and is presently seeking professional help.