What We Learned About Mental Health From Brian Velasco's Girlfriend's Statement About His Suicide
Even in grief and in pain, Portia Carlos clarifies the circumstances surrounding her boyfriend Brian Velasco's death, teaching Filipinos crucial lessons on mental health, kindness, and the importance of seeking help.
"Brian had bipolar disorder," opened Portia in her official statement that minced no words.
The opening line set the mood for the rest of her message that would be direct and an honest-to-goodness narrative of the final days of the drummer of iconic Pinoy rockband, Razorback. In a brave move, Portia spared no details about the most intimate facts of Brian's mental and emotional state, all in the hopes of turning this personal tragedy into a catalyst for change.
Laying the ground of the gravity of his years-long struggle with bipolar disorder, she continued, "He did not want to burden his mom, and was careful of what his brothers would see. He was supposed to be their role model. He was more a father to them than an older brother as they grew up without a dad and the brothers were way younger than him."
All throughout her lengthy message which you can read in full here, she emphasized Brian's difficulty in accepting his condition and in letting others learn his truth. Looking back at how the love of her life lived the last years of his life, Portia outlines what we can learn from her and Brian's experiences and how we can help those weighed down by their own mental and emotional burdens.
Supporting Brian's loved ones' wish to not allow his death to be in vain, we share everything we learned about mental health from Portia's statement below:
Please do not be ashamed of asking for help
With the extremely positive reception of campaigns that are quickly changing the way Filipinos perceive issues surrounding mental health, those in need of help must always remember to never be ashamed to seek it.
Mental health professionals are readily available for those in need, and are willing to help in ways a person is most comfortable with. One-on-one consultations, family or group therapy, and couple sessions can be arranged, while private phone conversations are also an option for those who prefer them.
See the end of this article for the contact numbers and organizations to get in touch with.
Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder does not equal "insanity"
"I will try my best to explain what the doctor said to us to remove the label that just because the definition of bipolar disorder is a 'mental' condition, it means anyone diagnosed with it is crazy, because the word 'mental' connotes craziness," wrote Portia as she attempted to correct the misconception.
"Neurotransmitters that are supposed to meet/pair/connect—these make persons without the condition react to events normally—do not meet/pair/connect in a person with bipolar disorder. Before you judge someone with this disorder, I hope you can remind yourself that it is just similar to other disorders where some physiological part of the person does not function as it should, say an inefficient kidney that needs dialysis. In this case, the manifestations of this disorder are[sic] behavioral," she explained.
Be attentive and informed
This is especially true in the cases of individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition and have a history of harmful behaviors that ensue when a condition manifests or when its symptoms are at their most extreme.
Possibly, despite religiously following one's treatment plan, a person can relapse. As someone who cares about them, it is absolutely crucial that you pay attention to warning signs or red flags that signal that an episode is on the rise, and consequently, be in the know about what course of action to take.
Whether it means setting up an emergency session with a therapist or psychiatrist, separating them from triggers, or making sure they take their dose of medication for the day, always know what to do should the occasion call for it. The right thing done at the right time can spell the difference between saving a life and acting a minute too late.
"Please read up on bipolar disorder to know the symptoms If you suspect your loved one has the same problem. If the symptoms are present, please bring your loved one to a psychiatrist as soon as possible for the proper diagnosis and to come up with a treatment plan that is suitable to your loved one, which may include therapy, aside from medication depending on your condition," Portia says.
Kindness and support should always be part of the picture
"He was staying at their family home during our first year but would go to his condo and call me when he was having an episode because he did not want his family to see it," recalls Portia.
One of the top reasons those with mental health conditions turn down help (or never ask for it in the first place) is their fear of being judged and misunderstood—even by those who love them most.
The best antidote to this is to foster an environment of acceptance, one where a person can be assured of their healing and the safety of their well-being. Don't assume that they simply already know you care for them and will be there for them no matter what; in their inner turmoil, sometimes they forget this, and it is important for them to hear you say it out loud, or for you to show concrete actions to remind them.
Be generous with your kindness towards them, as it is the most basic form of treatment there is and their first line of defense.
Try your very best to remove triggers from the environment
As much as we want to protect our loved ones from stressors that can trigger symptoms or lead to a relapse at all times, we can't be their shields 24/7. But when we can, we must try our best and be conscious of what we expose them to.
When it came to Brian, his drinking sprees would worsen his bipolar condition, and unfortunately, being a musician unavoidably often brought him face to face with alcohol. In the days leading up to his death, it was discovered that Brian had not only stopped taking his medication, but had also been drinking.
"So, imagine it was like having hypertension, and you were not taking your maintenance meds regularly or you stopped, and when your BP finally went up, you ate a bag of chicharon (in his case, hard alcohol)," describes Portia.
Remove all judgment
As she ended her message, Portia advised, "I have always sensed that Brian was kind of embarrassed about having the condition. Please do not be."
"Your illness is not something to be embarrassed about. Do find the help that you need. To those who genuinely were affected by Brian’s death, you can help by not judging people with this illness. Please be kind to everyone you meet. Your small act of kindness might save a life," she concluded.
Drawing from Portia's words, take the time to understand mental illness rather than make assumptions. In the same way we would never judge a person afflicted with physical illnesses like cancer, Parkinson's Disease, or Alzheimer's, those with mental conditions are equally deserving of the same understanding and compassion.
Learn the power of "How are you"
This goes for everyone—diagnosed with a mental health condition or not.
The ordinary act of asking a person how they're doing and being sincere in listening to what they have to say could make all the difference, not just in their day, but potentially in their life. Knowing that a person is interested in your feelings and the emotional release of one's stresses and worries can be extremely healing; don't underestimate the power of conversation.
And in the case a friend or family member chooses you as their emotional confidant, treat the role with TLC as you could be saving a life by just being available for them.
If you are or if someone you know is thinking about suicide or self-harm, please remember that help is a phone call away. In the Philippines, please call suicide prevention hotline numbers at the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation: 02-804-4673 (HOPE), or 0917-558-4673 (HOPE). You may also call the Manila Lifeline Centre at 02-896-9191, or 0917-854-9191. In the US, please call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). #suicideprevention #suicidepreventionhotline
Photos from @razorbackmusicph